What do crime writers read?

On the very last day of this year’s Oxford Lit Fest I was lucky enough to join Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine at The Story Museum to talk to our hearts’ content about detective fiction – writing it, and reading it.

We all write historical crime mysteries for children – and for anyone else who likes to read them! Nancy Parker's Diary of Detection by Julia LeeKatherine’s books are set in the rags and riches world of the grandest Victorian department store, Robin’s boarding school murder mysteries are set in the 1930s, and my new series is set in 1920, featuring Nancy Parker, a housemaid-turned-amateur detective.

The classic reads and characters which enthused and inspired us all were remarkably similar…

Our top hero Wilkie Collins is credited with inventing the genre of detective fiction with Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone (1868). His books have nail-biting mysteries and brilliant characterisation. In The Woman In White, the wonderful Marian Halcombe has the terrier-like qualities, essential for the amateur investigator, of loyally searching and refusing to let go. Marian is also a great antidote to the ‘ideal’ heroine of Victorian fiction who was as passive and dependent as she was pretty and blonde.

I have to confess that Clemency’s ghastly great-uncle in my first book, The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth, owes  more than a little to Marian’s half-sister’s uncle, Frederick Fairlie. (Yes, complicated – they always are!) Also to the wonderful Ian Richardson who played him in the 1980s TV adaptation.

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, the prototype of the investigator with almost super-human deductive skills. ‘We’re looking for a man with hare lip whose housekeeper always uses Shiny-Bee Floor wax.’ Ok, I made that up, but it’s just the kind of thing we expect Sherlock to say, and the way he’s morphed into a 21st century detective shows what a hold he has on our imaginations.

Then there’s Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

I read all the Miss Marple short stories, especially the early ones for 1920s atmosphere, when I was writing Nancy Parker. But my favourite book of Christie’s, Death Comes As The End, is one which many people haven’t heard of. It may be the first example of a historical crime novel. It’s set in the court of the Pharaohs in 2000 BC and has as high a body count as her famous And Then There Were None. Christie’s husband was an archaeologist and her interest in the subject inspired this fascinating whodunnit.

Harriet Vane from Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books is another great female detective – and a novelist to boot.

As for children’s books which inspired us, Nancy Drew, E. Nesbit’s Bastable children for their problem-solving (in The Treasure Seekers), and even Just William (identified as a loose cannon), never forgetting Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven, and The Famous Five (though really it was tomboy George and Timmy the dog who worked it all out).

Finally a massive vote from me for Golden Age writer of mystery fiction, Josephine Tey, whose books are still eminently readable today.

The Daughter of Time (1951) is an odd hybrid of contemporary and historical investigation: a police inspector, who prides himself on reading innocence or guilt in a suspect’s face, is laid up with a broken leg and bored. Sparked by a portrait of Richard III, he investigates from his hospital bed the story of the murder of the Princes in the Tower, using written sources. This book was voted number one in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list by the UK Crime Writers’ Association in 1990. I wonder if it’s the predecessor of all those novels where a modern-day hero/ine uncovers a story through a cache of letters and documents from the past?

My own favourite books of Tey’s are Brat Farrar, a beguiling mystery of identity, The Franchise Affair (rather modern in its portrayal of press manipulation, and full of twists and turns) and Miss Pym Disposes, which is set in a girls’ boarding school!

writers Julia Lee, Katherine Woodfine, Robin Stevens, at Oxford Literary Festival 2016,

Katherine Woodfine (left), me and Robin Stevens at The Story Museum, Oxford.

So if you want a classic detective fiction reading list, this is not a bad place to start.

UKMGExtravaganza…coming soon. Very soon.

UKMGExtravaganza October 2015 Nottingham

It’s only a couple of days now until UKMGExtravaganza in Nottingham. Thirty-five  – yes, 35 – UK middle grade authors all in one place, perhaps the most ever seen in captivity! It follows on from UKYAX last week and is organised by the amazing Kerry Drewery, Emma Pass and Jo Cotterill. Authors will be talking, mingling, signing books, and eating cake.

I will be in Nottingham Central Library on Saturday afternoon, waving my books about, and giving away the gorgeous bookmarks for my new title, Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection, which isn’t actually out until next year.

Julia Lee's books UKMGExtravaganza 2015

Brighton Definitely Rocks Books

Children's Laureate Chris Riddell's sketch of children's author Julia Lee at Brighton Rocks Books

I just had to post this sketch of me reading at the Brighton Rocks Books event at the Jubilee Library in Brighton last weekend.

I knew that the new Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, was going to kick off events for the Summer Reading Challenge – but I didn’t know that he would stay and join in with our Middle Grade Author Panel and draw us in action!


Last minute reminder of this event tomorrow – and an update: Chris Riddell, the new Children’s Laureate, author of Goth Girl and much more, will be there!


Do you fancy a summer’s day by the seaside with BOOKS? (Let’s face it, who doesn’t?) Do you live in the South East of England? Or have you got super-powers that enable you to travel huge distances in the blink of an eye? Because…

Brighton beach and Brighton PierOn Saturday July 11th at the Jubilee Library, in central Brighton, you can join a whole host of writers – including me – for an amazing day all about books. And what’s more, this is a free event. Woohoo!

The day pans out as follows:

11am: Action! Adventure! How writers keep stories exciting for younger readers, Middle Grade panel (suitable for ages 8+) featuring AF Harrold (THE IMAGINARY), Julia Lee (THE DANGEROUS DISCOVERIES OF GULLY POTCHARD), Tatum Flynn (THE D’EVIL DIARIES)
Noon: A World of Pure Imagination: Middle Grade (8+) workshop run by Cameron McAllister (THE TIN SNAIL)
Noon: Writing It…

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From inspiration to publication

An invitation from Lewes Children’s Book Group –

Jlewes childrens book groupoin us at our AGM on 28th January to find out more about writing for children and getting published.



Author Miriam Moss will be in discussion with a group of children’s writers talking about their journey from Inspiration to Publication. Dawn Casey and Leigh Hodgkinson write picture books and Leigh is also an illustrator. Julia Lee writes adventure stories aimed at 8-12 year olds and Jon Walter had his first teenage novel published last year.

The talk is on Wednesday 28th January, 7.30 for 8 p.m. start in the Lecture Room, upstairs in Lewes Town Hall, Lewes, East Sussex. There will be a chance to ask questions, chat to the authors and buy a book to get signed. Everyone is welcome – entrance is free.

Adventures in Writing

I haven’t posted here recently as I’ve been busy finishing a book and delivering it to my editor. And then recovering from finishing a book. And then doing all those tasks that I’d put off until after I’d finished the book. Including anything to do with Christmas.

But I did manage to fit in a few adventures.

Oldham Central Library Oldham Brilliant Books 2014

A warm welcome at Oldham Central Library

In November I went to Oldham for the Brilliant Books Awards. Thanks to Beverley Martin and her wonderful hard-working team at Oldham Council, we had a great day. The event took place in the spacious and inspiring Central Library, which is a fabulous place for any book-lover. Children and young people, teachers and parents, turned out in force. There were workshops and readings for each different age-group, followed by an award ceremony and book signings. Members of the Oldham Coliseum Theatre Young Rep Company performed mini-plays based on each shortlisted book, and then the awards were presented by keen volunteers from the audience who each got to keep a copy of the winning book.

What was so delightful was that lots of the shortlisted authors attended and I think all almost all the winners were there to accept their prize in person. This makes a lasting impression on the children who voted for their favourite books: they’d already met the author in one of the earlier sessions and could chat to them and get their autograph afterwards.

Book signing at Oldham Brilliant Books 2014

Although, sadly, The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth did not win the 9-11 category, it was exciting to find out that the joint winners were Liz Kessler and Rebecca Lisle, who I’d got to know over dinner the night before and had just shared a workshop with. I met all the other fab authors, too, and renewed acquaintance with Helen Docherty. I first ran into her at the 2014 Booktrust Best Books Awards, and this time her brilliant picture book The Snatchabook was a winner!


Rebecca Lisle, Liz Kessler, winners Oldham Brilliant Books 2014

Rebecca and Liz with their prizes & prize-winning books

The coldest day of the year so far found me signing book in a pavilion outside(!) Wigwam, a wonderful independent toyshop in Brighton. I was dressed in so many layers I could hardly move, with red berries and a robin on my hat, and with a giant inflatable reindeer for company. I even had a Christmas tree signing pen with irritating/jolly jingle bells attached. Or should that be jolly irritating…?

Julia Lee signing books at Wigwam Toy Shop, Brighton

Last but not least, just before the Christmas holidays really kicked in I was off to the first day of the exciting 21st Century Author Training run by The National Literacy Trust and Author ProfileI tried not to get too distracted by the panoramic views of central London from the 14th floor of a glitzy office block. About 20 children’s authors from far and wide were prised out of our writing garrets/sheds/corners to brush up on our presentation skills and learn how to really engage with young audiences. It’s always good to meet other writers and share ideas, because we all spend far too long on our own with our keyboards and our imaginary friends.

More of this in the New Year.

And more about that new book, too…



‘Happy Christmas!’

The brilliant Best Books Bash

Booktrust Best Book Awards Best Books Bash2014


A week ago I was in a very sunny London at The Booktrust Best Books Bash to celebrate this new prize and – da-da-dah! – hear the winners announced. (And, no – sob – it was not me.*)

shortlisted books at the Booktrust Best Book Awards 2014

The 2014 shortlisted books

But it was a fantastic event, hosted by Mel Giedroyc, who was one of the judges for my section, and with lots of starry guests from the world of children’s books.

Michael Morpurgo at the 2014 Booktrust Best Book Awards

Michael Morpurgo at the podium

Yes, I chatted to Michael Morpurgo and stood right next to children’s laureate Malorie Blackman for a whole two minutes. I saw the actual beard of Philip Ardagh live and watched Chris Riddell draw wonders on the art wall.

Liz Pichon at the 2014 Booktrust Best Book Awards drawing wall

Liz Pichon at the drawing wall. Get that sleeve!

Chris Riddell at the Booktrust Best Book Awards 2014 drawing wall

Chris Riddell and others busy with the felt tips




The  Snatchabook drops in!

The Snatchabook drops in!

I also met a number of the other shortlisted authors and illustrators, including Kate Cain and Jonathan Stroud, my UK rivals in the age 9-11 category.

And an amazing total of 307 children and teenagers came to the bash, from a range of participating schools all over the country, while others watched the ceremony live-streamed into their schools.

Drawing wall at Booktrust Best Book Awards 2014 - Julia Lee's Whitby Marvel

My contribution – that’s Whitby Marvel with knitting needles in her hair!



It was all very thrilling. The children roamed freely, hunting down favourite authors and gathering autographs. As Mel said from the podium of a particularly excited group, ‘I wouldn’t want to be their coach driver on the way home!’


Mel Giedroyc at Booktrust Best Book Awards 2014

Mel Giedroyc, our MC.



Shortlisted author Julia Lee at 2014 Booktrust Best Book Awards 2014

And me!


*If you must know, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck won Best Story Book for 9-11s on the readers’ vote.  


Bookshop Crawl for a bookshop haul

OK, so if you’ve got any spare £££s you might choose to spend them on

photo (41)

orflower stall

or even (it won’t work).UK national lottery signBut let’s face it…these will last you a lot longer.books

And they’re more nourishing (yet non-fattening). So I went to hunt some down.

It’s been Independent Booksellers Week 2014 and today book obsessives and book bloggers are celebrating with the IBW Bookshop Crawl. You can follow events on Twitter at #bookshopcrawl. I did cheat a bit, though. I knew I couldn’t make Saturday so went out and about on Thursday when the sun was shining!

I decided to hit the independent bookshops of Brighton & Hove, which are all just a street away from the sea, and I started at the Kemptown Bookshop. Kmeptown Bookshop book bag This guy keeps watch from just over the way statue of David and this is the view from the end of the street. sea view Brighton pier Inside three floors of beautiful books kemp town books plus 20th century prints from Bookroom Art Press prints

and delicious stuff for stationery freaks (which means all writers).


and a busy children’s department downstairs where I found this!

The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth by Julia Lee

and bought this gorgeous book. A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies & Mark Hearld

Then a bus hop across town to City Books on Western Road

City Books, Brighton which is full to bursting with city fiction and gardening even books about bookshops.The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

They run lots of author events which is why they have a great many signed copies.

city bookshelf

And downstairs (again) a children’s section with lovely picture books

city pic books   and this! city me In the end I succumbed to these…

city pile


And just round the corner there’s this, so I sat in the sun to check out what I’d got so far.

city view

Last stop was The Book Nook in Hove, a dedicated children’s bookshop with a little cafe, too. The Book Nook bookshop, Hove

This is at the end of the street (not gloating or anything).

sea view Hove Inside there’s fun fun factual non fict and all kinds of gorgeous fiction, new gorgeous and classic.classics Plus a book boat boat and on the walls some special artwork from visiting authors and illustrators. Liz Pichon artwork for The Book Nook, Hove

And finally, essential to all book browsing… (I can recommend the flapjacks)



The haul in my Gruffalo bag:



The books I ended up with were A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld; Unexploded by Alison Macleod; Goth Girl & The Ghost of A Mouse by Chris Riddell; The Ocean At The End Of  The Lane by Neil Gaiman; The Jade Boy by Kate Cain; Small Blue Thing by S C Ransom; The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.

Sigh of satisfaction. Money well spent. Indie bookshops still there. My work is done. ‘Til the next book binge.


Snot glue and other eternal verities of the children’s publishing industry

It’s said that much in the way of significant business deals and networking still takes place in male-only sanctums. But at the Nosy Crow Conference at the St Bride Foundation on Saturday the (very long) queue for the ladies’ loos was the place to be! My networking skills are a work-in-progress but even I managed some worthwhile conversations while the predominantly female audience waited patiently for the 3 available cubicles – though a break-away contingent did annexe the second gents’ facilities on the top floor.

(I’ve already written too much about toilets and nothing about publishing. Note to self.)

Billed as Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (but were afraid to ask), that kind of summed up my feelings as a relative newbie in the field. Nosy Crow are relative newbies too, as a publishing house, but have squillions of years of collective experience between them. (Exaggeration, moi?)

Others have blogged more comprehensively and sensibly about the event here and here but I’d like to share some of what I learned at this packed and exciting day.

Lucy Mangan, Guardian columnist and bibliophile – and that’s putting it mildly – said that reading “sets you free”. Access to books, in particular through school and public libraries, was invaluable for aspiring to and achieving that slightly touchy subject, social mobility. I felt that children’s authors and readers (of all ages) were together planting a flag for the value of books, like in the famous Iwo Jima photograph. Somebody with more advanced expertise than mine Photoshop it for me, please.

The Nosy Crow editorial panel, with their eyes on worldwide sales, said useful things about picture books like, ‘Don’t make your story too British’. (Hedgehogs are a no-no on that basis. Who knew?) That blows my story about a Dartford Warbler right out of the water. Also, ‘If it rhymes, is the story strong enough to work as prose in another language?’ And stories about ordinary everyday life for 5 to 7-year-olds just don’t really cross borders, too culture-specific. Fantasy worlds do translate.

As for their wish-list, quite frankly I don’t want to share that with you. I want to keep it all to myself.

Hilary Delamere defended agents against the theoretical defamation that they were only money-grubbing parasites. But personally I had always thought that they were the golden key (elbow? Metaphor!?) to pushing past the slush pile.

Tracey Corderoy wowed with energy and charm but scared me with her crafting super-powers in a talk about live author events. ‘Take a story sack’ was the lesson I learned, even if it’s only to clutch to your terrified bosom. Jon Reed had to follow on with a session about on-line marketing while one of Tracey’s sparkly spiders still dangled from the lectern. A good tip from Jon was paywithatweet where readers get a free extract or 1-page resource but have to ‘pay’ by tweeting your link.

From Melissa Cox, children’s book buyer for Waterstones, I learned that the ideal book for 9s-12s (the age-group I am currently writing for) has good writing, a good cover, a strong story and leaves ‘em wanting more. Hope that’s sorted, then. And that foil covers aren’t the thing any more, it’s all about sprayed edges. Unfortunately by this time the data projector had done a diva-flounce and stopped cooperating, so we couldn’t see all the titles Melissa wanted to illustrate her talk with.

From there we moved into the strange but fascinating world of children’s story apps, but we’d had cake by then and wine was promised so nothing felt too mystifying.

My last lesson of the day was: snot glue. Think about it. It’s that stuff that sticks things to things. Free stuff on magazine covers. You can roll it up into a ball…eventually. Yes, now you know what I’m talking about, and now you know it has a technical name. Snot glue. You heard it here, courtesy of Nosy Crow.