Tag Archives: Holidays

26 December: Will Mabbitt


 Our Christmas Author Calendar continues with Will Mabbitt!

Will Mabbitt is the author of The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones and was recently shortlisted for The Branford Boase Book Award.  Will lives with his family in the south of England. He writes; in cafes, on trains, on the toilet, and sometimes in his head when his laptop runs out of power.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Socks, pants and a Swiss Army Knife (Desperately need the edition with toenail clippers).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? BEST TRADITION: The family getting together in the season of goodwill. WORST TRADITION: The full body search of Great Aunt Lilly has become a necessary precaution to ensure she doesn’t bring any weapons into the house.

(Sounds dangerous!)

There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourit705257-_uy369_ss369_e story to read at Christmas? Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs is great.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? Charles Darwin. He wrote a book about earthworms. I have a picture book about worms coming out next year called I Can Only Draw Worms. I like to think he would appreciate the chance to read it and acknowledge that it is of equal merit.


Your brilliant books feature some fairly gruesome pirates! What do you think happens at a pirate Christmas celebration? Spit roasted parrot, and an unfortunate incident where the Captain accidentally eviscerates himself with his hook during a particularly difficult game of charades.

What New Year’s Resolutions do you think Mabel Jones would make? She has one very bad habit. So it would be STOP EATING BOGIES.

(Very wise choice…. I wonder, will she keep it?!)

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from Adam aged 10, Great Walstead School; why did you choose to have animal pirates instead of human pirates in the Mabel Jones stories? It’s a tricky question. I didn’t really think about why I did it. I just like writing about talking animals. Having said that though I can do worse things to talking animal characters than I would be allowed to do to human characters. For some reason, it’s fine to kill a talking animal pirate in a sea battle. My editor probably wouldn’t allow me to write a scene where this happened to a child. I’m not sure why this is. Technically, talking animals are much rarer than children! Another lucky thing is that readers can assume a personality for a certain animal. For example an owl is considered to be wise and a bit haughty. You can use this as a short cut to making a character, or you can turn it into a joke by making an owl stupid. 

Turkey or goose? I don’t eat any animal with a cloaca.

Real or fake tree? Real tree. It should be bald on one side and already shedding needles on the day of purchase. It should also topple over in the night and wake up the baby.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Christmas Pudding if I’m allowed Brandy Butter, Cream AND custard.

Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? END OF THE BED. Especially if you wear nylon stocking which are highly flammable.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve is cosier. I like cosy.

Thanks for joining in the festive fun! Happy Christmas!


Find out more about Will at www.mabeljonesbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @gomabbitt.

25 December: Abi Elphinstone



Merry Christmas! A suitably snowy feel to our Q & A today.


Abi Elphinstone grew up in Scotland where she spent most of her childhood building dens, hiding in tree houses and running wild across highland glens. After being coaxed out of her tree house, she studied English at Bristol University and then worked as a teacher. The Dreamsnatcher was her debut novel for 8-12 years and was longlisted for the Brandford Boase Award. The Shadow Keeper is her second book and a third book, The Night Spinner, will complete the trilogy in February 2017. When she’s not writing, Abi volunteers for Beanstalk, visits schools to talk about her books and travels the world looking for her next story. Her latest adventure involved living with the Kazakh Eagle Hunters in Mongolia and you can read about that here.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Books, trainers and adventures. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; a new pair of running trainers; a dog-sledding trip across the Arctic. That last item has been on my Christmas list for many years but, excitingly, I think this December it might become a reality (great timing, too, because I’m currently 20,000 words into an adventure set up in the frozen north…).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? I grew up in the wilds of Scotland and every year, a few weeks before Christmas, my family and I would set off up the glen to chop down a Norabi-snowdman Fir (they hold onto their needles best) from our friend’s woodland. I remember the excitement my siblings and I shared as we picked our tree and the effort of chopping it down but, most of all, I remember the thrill of using ropes to hoist it up into the stairwell of our house and then, afterwards, decorating it with chocolate ornaments, glittering baubles and colourful fairy-lights. I had troubles getting to sleep as a child but on the nights that our Christmas tree was in the house I used to sleep better. Something about the way the Nordman Fir’s fairy-lights shone through the night was hugely comforting.

There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? For me, the best winter stories are poised on the edge of miracles. There has to be a sense of longing and when the snow falls that longing is somehow brought closer. Such is the case with my favourite winter read: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The youngest of four siblings, Lucy Pevensie’s heart is51ltfjckh4l-_sy344_bo1204203200_ filled with longing. She wants to be believed by her brothers and sister and treated as their equal and it takes a world locked in the depths of winter and hidden behind a wardrobe to make her siblings understand. But Lucy not only dares to hope that Edmund, Susan and Peter will believe her stories of Narnia; she dares to hope that together with them she can save an entire land from the grips of the White Witch. And I think it is Lucy’s ability to hope against the odds and against the cynicism of her siblings that makes this story so powerful. Without it, the way through to Aslan’s values – forgiveness, friendship, courage and compassion – might never have been found.

(I love your description of this wonderful story)

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? C.S. Lewis. I’d want him to tell me, in detail, what a Narnian Christmas would involve. I’d like to know where the Pevensie children would go sledging, what food Mrs Beaver might prepare and what Aslan’s favourite carol would be. I love C.S. Lewis’ non-fiction for adults, too, and I’d love to ask him about his faith.

Your books feature wonderful fantastical adventures in magical places and you’ve been to some amazing places in real life! If you were to go on a Christmas adventure, where would you go to and who would be with you? My Christmas adventure is (hopefully) going to happen at the end of December. It’ll be with my husband – he usually comes on my book research trips with me as he also loves exploring wild places at the very edges of civilisation – and we’ll fly into northern Norway, Tromso, and then set about our travels from there: dog-sledding across the ice, living like the Sami Reindeer Herders used to in the forest and chasing the northern lights by sleigh. And when, finally, I’m back in the UK I’ll be turning all this into my fourth book (out 2018).

(Sounds incredibly exciting – can’t wait to read the book!)

You work with the fantastic charity, Beanstalk, helping children with their reading. What do you think is the best way to help children discover the magic of reading? Find the right book for the right child. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ book – it’s important to embrace any kind of narratives that eases a child into the wonder of stories. And never dismiss the power of picture books. They don’t have many words but the ones they do have they use wisely. And their illustrations speak volumes.

(Wholeheartedly agree with this!)

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; what is your most favourite book? (always a tough one to answer!) Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The heroine, Lyra Silvertongue, taught me that girls can be just as brave and as punchy as boys and I loved the idea of having a daemon and imagining what mine might be. The scale of adventure in this book is unparalleled and the images it conjures up – a girl riding an armoured polar bear across the Arctic, a sky full of witches, Lee Scorsby’s hot air balloon soaring over the mountains – have stayed with me forever.51mo7ylclal-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Turkey or goose? Turkey.

Real or fake tree? REAL, REAL, REAL. Every time. To smell a real Christmas tree is to breathe in winter.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies. With clotted cream.

Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of the bed so that you can feel them half way through the night to check that Father Christmas has been.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve. The magic of that night is tangible.

Thank you so much for participating! Have a very Happy Christmas!


Find out more about Abi www.abielphinstone.com and follow her on Twitter @moontrug.




24 December: Horatio Clare


Award winning author Horatio Clare joins our author calendar!

unnamedHoratio Clare’s first book for children, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, won the Branford Boase Award 2016. His previous works include Running for the Hills, an acclaimed account of a Welsh childhood, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and saw Horatio shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Other books include Truant, A Single Swallow (shortlisted for the Dolman Travel Book of the Year), The Prince’s Pen and most recently the best-selling travelogue, Down to the Sea in Ships(winner of the Dolman Travel Book of the Year). His essays and reviews appear regularly in the national press and on BBC radio.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Hope, joy and patience…

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Carol singing in the square, normally in sleet. Eating pheasant on
Christmas eve. Missing the days of great films on Christmas afternoon. Watching hours of television.

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is wonderful.729e7bfbb0f70b93124962aba079e8c3

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? William Shakespeare is the person I would most like to meet. I believe he was very good company, laughed a lot, and was the greatest listener and observer of all time. It was be great fun to see what he made of a modern Christmas.

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot features a wonderful cast of characters from Aubrey himself to a talking bluebottle!  If you could describe the perfect cast for a festive story who would it include? You need a heroine: I think an extremely wild girl who had definitely not been good and was told she was not on Santa’s good children list would make an interesting lead character. And you need a villain. Donald Trump? There should be a buzzard with vertigo, a pirate with seasickness and an escaped prisoner, incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.


You explore the very real and difficult issue of depression in Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot and yet the book is full of compassion and hope. What would you say to encourage someone suffering from depression particularly at a time when everyone is ‘supposed’ to be feeling jolly and festive? Loss of perspective is a killer. Depression tells you it’s all about you, it’s all your fault, and that you make people unhappy. All of this is untrue. If you can get up, say yes to everything and forget yourself, even for a minute, through involvement with other people, this is good. Kindness to oneself and forgiveness of oneself make a great difference. Service to others, just the smallest thing, helps you to forget yourself. Some of the happiest people at Christmas work for others – a friend of mine used to volunteer at a crisis centre. It was a genuine public service and it made her a great, giving person to be around. Conversation is a huge help – the Samaritans are busy at Christmas, for good reason. It is a sign of strength and recovery to search for people to talk to: you do not have to wait until you are in a desperate place to call them. They would much rather just speak to someone who needs a good listener who will not make judgements. Also, no one should feel bad about going to bed with a book or the remote and staying there. Sometimes it is a waiting game – depression does end, that’s the secret, and sometimes you just have to be kind to yourself, and let the light in. Doing things you don’t feel like -going for walks in vile weather, meeting people when you don’t think you are up to it – always brings unexpected reward, and relief.

(This is really heartfelt and heart warming – and full of hope).


Reader’s question from the children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; we are often told persevering as a writer is really important. How many rejection letters did you get before you were published? It’s part of the game, as it is in all creative jobs. Ask an actor how many roles they auditioned for that they did not get! It is much worse for actors because they need someone else’s permission to practice their art. Writers can just get on with it. First I was rejected by an agent, on the strength of a bad manuscript. Then I found an agent, who sent it out, and the same bad manuscript, slightly improved, was rejected by about ten publishers. But the 11th met me and said this thing is rubbish, but you are a writer. Why don’t you write something that people will need and want to read? So by the time I had the first chapters of my next book ready that publisher had been sacked and his imprint shut down. But those chapters went on to become my first book. But when you are starting out you don’t need to worry about any of that. Write a lot, write for pleasure, write for joy, write when you are feeling thoughtful and write when your heart is full. At some point you will start writing for the story itself, for the readers it deserves, and that is when you cross over from wanting to be a writer to actually being one.

(Brilliant advice- thank you)

Turkey or goose? Goose! Turkeys deserve a break, and geese have it all their own way
most of the time.

Real or fake tree?  Real! You need that smell of pine needles. And there is too much plastic in the world.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies! Christmas pudding is more like a weapon than a foodstuff.

Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? Over the fireplace. No one needs to wake up to find a man with a beard getting tangled up at the end of the bed.

(Hilarious *laughs out loud*!!)

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve! Flying reindeer are so much more fun than hurtling police cars…

Thank you for participating in our author advent and have a very Happy Christmas!


Find out more about Horatio at www.firefly.co.uk and follow Horatio on Twitter @HoratioClare 

23 December: Jo Franklin


Help! It’s  Jo Franklin!


Jo Franklin went to a boarding school, which was nothing like Hogwarts. She did however, have plenty of time for reading and making up stories in her head. After ten years of making camps in the woods with her own children, Jo wrote Help! I’m an Alien and like all true aliens, she is aiming for world domination with two more titles to come in the Help! series

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Chocolate Cherry Liqueurs – I ate five boxes last year, because I kept buying them ‘for Christmas’ and eating them before December. So this year I’m going to put them on my list and not buy any cgj3bc8w0aalu6cmyself. Hopefully that will limit me to one box only. A signed print by Chris Riddell – no one in my family would ever have thought of buying me this, so I have cheated and bought it myself. It’s currently at the framers. ‘Set the Boy Free’ Johnny Marr’s autobiography. Johnny was the guitarist with The Smiths – my favourite band of all time so I can’t wait to read this.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? We don’t do Christmas in a big way, but we always have pancakes for breakfast and a roast dinner. I’m vegetarian so I will have cauliflower cheese instead of the meat. I love Brussel sprouts, parsnips and roast potatoes, so I really enjoy Christmas lunch.

There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? I make a point of reading two books every year between Christmas and New Year. They aren’t exactly stories but gear me up for the new year – On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott. They both give their view of being a writer. I find them totally inspirational.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? Morrissey – he is the reason I became vegetarian 30 years ago so we could share a vegetarian feast and talk about books and music.


In ‘Help! I’m an Alien!’, Daniel has some very unique best friends, Gordon the Geek and Freddo. What gift would he give them at Christmas?  Freddo is easy. He would like a life time’s subscription to Walker’s Crisps. Daniel would probably buy Gordon a new tie, but instead of using Christmas wrapping paper he would have it sealed in a sterile atmosphere to ensure that there was no chance it was contaminated.

(*Laughs out loud*)

You do loads of brilliant author events! If you could plan the perfect author event to celebrate Christmas AND reading, what would it be like and who would be there? I love to spend time with other writers and enthusiastic readers. My idea of heaven would be to spend a day in a massive log cabin, cut off from civilisation by heavy snow. The cabin has a roaring fire with an endless supply of logs. Each person reads out a chapter from their favourite book and gives a copy of that book to everyone else at the event, so at the end of it we all leave with a massive pile of books to read. Sharing a passion for reading and writing is a great way to make friends.

(This sounds perfect!)


Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; do you write in silence or do you need some noise around you? I like to listen to music. At the moment I have put my whole catalogue of music on shuffle and am working my way through it. Right now I’m on track 1183 of 3248 which is by The Pale Fountains. I love guitar bands, mostly from the Eighties but also up to date bands like the Arctic Monkeys.

Turkey or goose? Cauliflower cheese – see above!

Real or fake tree? Real. I wouldn’t bother if I couldn’t have a real tree.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Christmas pudding with brandy butter AND brandy cream.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of the bed although we leave mincepies, beer and a carrot by the fireplace.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? I’ve never understood the joy of New Year’s Eve. I’m not a great fan of parties and don’t like getting drunk, so I prefer to stay in reading a good book. Christmas Eve is usually a frantic wrapping frenzy.

Thank you or taking part in our festive Q & A! Merry Christmas! 


Find out more about  Jo on her website www.jofranklinauthor.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @JoFranklin2


22 December: Sophy Henn


Amazing author and illustrator Sophy Henn on Day 22!


Sophy Henn writes and illustrates children’s books in her studio, with a large cup of tea by her side, and can’t quite believe her luck! Where Bear?, her first book, was nominated for both the Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2015. Pom Pom Gets the Grumps won Junior Design Awards Best Book of the Year 2015, and Sophy won Best Emerging Talent (Children’s Author).  Sophy was delighted to be spokesperson for Save the Children’s Read On, Get On campaign, focusing on pre-school. She was also the World Book Day Illustrator for 2015 and 2016.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Slippers, I’ve got my eye on a rather lovely silver sheepskin pair. Yes, silver! A nice, comfy, baggy jumper. Books – A big Eames coffee table one, an Angela Thirkell, a curry cookbook and Mistletoe Murder!

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? My daughter and I make crackers for everyone around the table. It was fun at first, we started about five years ago, filling the crackers with fake moustaches, a little gift, jokes and a charade, each tailored for the recipient. It was very hilarious to see nieces, nephews, grandparents, in fact everyone around the table tucking into Christmas dinner wearing a variety of moustaches! It’s pretty labour intensive though and one member of the party was unnecessarily critical of the jokes (how can they be too cheesy??) last year so I think it’s my best and worst tradition all rolled into one!

(Brilliant – Christmas moustaches!!)

We also have a Christmas eve tradition of new pyjamas, one I am VERY happy to maintain.

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? The GRINCH. Dr Seuss nails it again! I am utterly guilty of being over sentimental at this time of year, it’s easy to do. But Dr Seuss manages a hilarious adventure, packed with meaning, centred around Christmas without being at all smushy. Genius!

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? Obviously Father Christmas. I’d like to know how he get’s so much done in such a short space of time, I could use some of that magic!

Your illustrations bring to life your stories beautifully. If you could illustrate and bring to life a festive story of your choice, which one would it be and why? Thank you! But this is SUCH a hard question! Well I’m not going anywhere near The Grinch as Dr Seuss has that one covered. One of my other favourite Christmas stories is The Tailor of Gloucester, but again Beatrix Potter’s beautiful illustrations are such a big part of why I love it so I don’t think I could go there either! Maybe it would be A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore which contains the magical line… “Twas the night before Christmas, when all
through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”. 
Just those 51b1m98zm8ltwo lines send shivers of excitement down my spine, its a very magical Christmas story. Or possibly Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding. I’d like to have a go at illustrating a longer text and I think a collection of murderous texts by one of my favourites could be a good place to start!

(LOVE The Tailor of Gloucester -still have my edition from when I was little. And LOVE Agatha Christie – I think you should definitely do that one!)

Pom Pom is a wonderful character whose stories young and old alike can identify with! How do you think Pom Pom likes to celebrate Christmas?  I think Pom Pom would do what I did as a child, wake up at about 3am and run into his parents room bursting with excitement! Pom Pom would probably tear through his presents, talking at a hundred miles an hour because Christmas is SO EXCITING! Then I think he would probably slightly regret opening his presents so quickly, sometimes it’s good to savour your presents a bit! After presents Pom Pom would definitely sneak some gold coins in before lunch and cover the floor with all his toys! But alongside all of this very ‘busy’ behaviour, Pom Pom would be giving out lots of lovely Christmas cuddles and probably be fast asleep by 4pm!

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from students at Warden Park Academy; when you are creating a story do you draw it or write it first? My stories tend to start with a character. I think that’s my favourite part of my job, the thinking up characters part! Once I have sketched out my character, from all angles and doing different things, their personality starts to shape. Then a story will develop from their character or I will remember a story I have scribbled down in one of my notebooks that would suit them (then I have to find it!!! Not easy when you have a least a million notebooks!). Once I know who and what the story is about then I start to write. Then re write. Then edit. Then re write again. Then think the whole idea is rubbish, at which point I show it to someone else as I can’t see the wood for the trees. Then re write it all over again. Once I am happy with the words I sketch out each page VERY roughly. Then re sketch it, etc etc. And FINALLY when I am happy with the sketches I get cracking on the illustrations.

Turkey or goose? TURKEY

Real or fake tree? REAL

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? JUST MORE CHEESE PLEASE (spiced fruit is not right)

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? END OF THE BED

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? CHRISTMAS EVE – all the lovely anticipation and zero pressure to have “the best night of the year”.

Thank you for taking part in our festive Q & A! Have a very Happy Christmas!


Find out more about Sophy www.sophyhenn.com and follow her on Twitter @sophyhenn.