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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Summer Reading 3: Islands of adventure…and growing up.

seaweed and limpets, Cornish beach

Recently I’ve been thinking, and blogging, about what kind of reading fits with summer days and I’ve finally got round to some children’s books. There’s still time! The weather may not be so summery right now but there are still weeks to go until…but let’s not think about that.

I’ve never been to the Scilly Isles but have long wanted to visit. Even more so now, after reading Breathing Underwater by Julia Green (2009), based on a fictionalised version of this archipelago off the tip of Cornwall. 14-year-old Freya returns for the first time in a year to the tiny island where her grandparents live and where her big brother drowned the summer before. It’s sad, but story and setting are beautifully evoked, as are the things that have changed and those which stay the same. I hate that lazy phrase ‘coming to terms with’, but I guess this is what the book is all about, and yet much more. Freya is growing up and stretching her wings. It also sums up wonderfully the way a holiday place can be somewhere you think of as your very own, more you than where you live most of your life – even when that’s painful, too.

Cornish cove

Cornish cove


Somewhere I have spent a lot of summertime in is mainland Cornwall, since my grandparents lived there and my mum grew up there. Also beautifully evoked, Helen Dunmore’s Ingo series (2006 onwards) mixes very convincing rocky coves, sandy beaches, caves, sun and sea-fog of the real Cornwall with a more mythical underwater strand which begins with a carved mermaid in Zennor church. Ingo is also about loss and longing; a little, too, about the economic difficulties of living in a remote, rural and seasonal county – but I expect grown-up readers will pick up more on this.  I’ve only read the first volume but have the second – The Tide Knot – lined up and can’t wait. Dunmore writes amazing novels for adults and is a poet, too – it shows.

In both these books children and young teens are testing their independence, and I love reading about their freedom to take risks and weigh up consequences.

For less nuanced reading, here are a couple of other ideas.

islands of adventure

More islands, swimming, sailing, picnics, camping out and building fires feature in my next suggestion. A much more traditional one: Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome (1929). I confess I haven’t reread this since childhood and there may be some very uncomfortable attitudes lurking in it for modern-day readers. I know one of the characters has an embarrassing name that has not really stood the test of time. But there are ‘pirates’, intrepid and skilful girls, and plenty of adventures. It was in this book that I first came across a reference to pemmican – some kind of convenience-meal canned meat that, as a squeamish eater, I felt very nervous about – and because of my very literal young mind I just made the connection: pelican in a can. Obviously!

I’ve written elsewhere that I never read much Enid Blyton as a child, but I did enjoy a couple of the titles in the

The Island of Adventure by Enid BlytonAdventure’ seriesThe Island of Adventure being the only one I remember anything about! But Blyton is never short of picnics, boats, beaches and islands, and the kind of adventures that can only be had when responsible adults are right out of the picture and only the wicked, but easily outwitted by a handful of kids and a dog (or, in this instance, a parrot) type, are left.


Happy holidays (if only inside the pages of a book)!

Reading Heaven?

This is such a wonderful letter, so atmospheric and full of love for that kind fall-into-a-book reading that I remember from childhood and long school holidays (and days when I was lying ill in bed or on the settee, but not too ill to read). And it brought back memories of miniature moss gardens, too! And of drawing pictures to go with the pictures in my head that reading conjured up – or at least trying to draw something that could come close what I pictured. And cats keeping you company while you read! (How many ‘ands’ can I include here??)

I think Joan Aiken had a very sympathetic style in writing to fans and readers of her books, if I’m to judge from this letter. It’s warm and personal, a great piece of writing in itself, and doesn’t talk down to the reader.

Joan Aiken

Reading Holiday

This was Joan’s idea of a Perfect Holiday… what about you?

Dear Person


Read the full letter from Joan at The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken

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Summer Reading: Part 2


Fiction set in a shared holiday house has become a cliché. But it’s still an interesting experience to read when you are actually in a holiday house yourself, shared or otherwise. Here are some of my favourites:


Summer’s Lease – John Mortimer (1988) Summer's Lease by John Mortimer

The first novel I ever came across set in a Tuscan holiday villa. Maybe Mortimor was ahead of his time. Witty and perceptive.





Love In Idleness – Amanda Craig (2003)

Love In Idleness by Amanda CraigAnother Tuscan idyll, comically riffing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as both children and adults trespass in magical territory.





Swimming Home – Deborah Levy (2011)

This time the shared holiday house is in the south of France. An unlikely mix of characters and a jigsaw puzzle of emotional chaos.


The Red House – Mark Haddon (2012)

Closer to home, an extended family share a very recognisable holiday house on the Welsh border. As much mist and rain as sunshine here, so a typical British summer with tensions awash and a-sizzle.

Any suggestions that I have missed?


Summer Reading: Part 1



I once tried to read Orhan Pamuk’s Snow on holiday in Southern Italy. In August. It was too hot to move. All I could do was lie in the shade and, when that got too much, cool off by jumping into the swimming pool. Yet my holiday reading was set in a Turkish city in the grip of a mighty blizzard.

I now know better. The best summer reading needs some kind of seasonal link. Here are a few of my tried and tested favourite summer fictions, each read several times. Not for children, these are strictly grown-up fare. I don’t really do ‘lite’, even in the highest temperatures.


Godf On The Rocks by Jane GardamGod On The Rocks – Jane Gardam (1978)

An English seaside town between the wars. Love and lust and religion, duty and – quite frankly – madness all boil over, fuelled by the endless summer heat. Inimitable Gardam.



Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver (2000)

A familiar Kingsolver theme – humans’ interactions with nature and each other, positive or destructive, always complicated. Moths, coyotes, apples, bees, love and death, all observed throughout a lush season.


The Go-Between – L P Hartley (1953)Julie Christie in The Go-Between

Hot hot hot. Tension ratchets up as the temperature keeps rising in Hartley’s classic story of a child caught up in adult manoeuvres.

A Room With A View – E M Forster (1908)

This awkward love story never fails me. And for once the film version did not spoil my imaginings, but added pictures and a Puccini sound track. There’s also a wicked lady novelist!


Part 2 of Summer Reading will look at novels which look at people on their summer holidays. Reader, know thyself.