‘George And The Dragon’ (Wormell, Red Fox, 2002)

According to Wikipedia Chris Wormell worked as a road-sweeper and rubbish collector (amongst other jobs) before taking up painting as a hobby. His first book: ‘An Alphabet Of Animals’, was published in 1990. Since then he has become a prize-winner with a long list of books and achievements including providing artwork for commercial advertising and designing the lion for Aston Villa’s club badge in 2016.

This particular book was published in 2002 and features a heroic mouse named George. George saves a princess (I am assuming that she is a princess) from the clutches of a huge rampaging red dragon by moving in next door it and asking for sugar. The dragon is terrified of mice and flees leaving the mouse to reap the rewards for saving the princess: lots of food and a ‘cosy little hole in the castle wall’.

The illustrations are excellent, particularly the mighty dragon and his destruction of the castle. The words are in a familiar style to young children: ‘Far, far away in the high, high mountains in a deep, deep valley, in a dark, dark cave…’ but the plot is a twist on the tale of brave St. George. A dragon being scared of mice is a device I will resist the temptation to analyse; suffice to say that very young children will love the book and adults will appreciate its brevity when reading the seventh story of the night; it’s the perfect length for its target audience.

It’s a pleasure to read but the audiobook is well worth getting also. The narration by Brian Blessed delivered with characteristic gusto.

Overall, ‘George And The Dragon’ is a book well worth buying for young children.

Joining The Circus

My shaking finger was poised and ready; I was aiming at his head. I had never shot royalty before and now it all came down to this one moment.

He was on the other side of a small room in conversation and bound to turn towards me. I had dug myself into a real hole. I had one shot; failure was unthinkable.

The conversation seemed to be coming to a close. The back of his royal head was beginning to twist and reveal one of the most famous faces in the world. Instantly, I fired.

Prince Charles immediately stopped and closed his eyes, half blinded, his face screwing up in displeasure and discomfort. I could hear him muttering expletives before he regained his composure.

I could have died. The flash-gun had unleashed a grossly disproportionate payload of white light into his eyes as he turned from his dutiful examination of the shop owner’s wares.

I immediately looked at Camilla standing directly opposite me, barely a few yards away. Her eyes met mine and in that moment we both understood each other. A secret smile, the faintest of expressions, told me that it was alright; she understood and she sympathised and I wasn’t going to the Tower of London to be consigned to a life of torturous incarceration in its infamous dungeons.

Following Lady Diana was like replacing Keith Moon. The media scrum that was never far away, the circus that Charles so obviously despised, was interested only in insulting and deriding her. She had only had bad press, a little like Linda McCartney, the woman who had dared to marry Beatle Paul. I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of Camilla or any of the royal family. That moment of kindness, however, was very gracious.

Inside the nauseous claustrophobia of the tiny Cornish art shop she had been standing facing me, so close that we could have whispered to one another, and I hadn’t been sure whether I should photograph her or not from such close range. She couldn’t have avoided me and I could have clicked away a hundred shots. I found it excruciatingly embarrassing and couldn’t make myself do it.

I felt that I couldn’t initiate contact because I was supposed to be invisible; I wasn’t to interfere in royal business, I was there to document it in a silent and respectful manner: but It was almost as bad ignoring her as it was invading her privacy by shoving my lens in her face. Looking back, when I replay it in my mind, as I do sometimes, I wish I had asked her permission for a photograph. I think she might have said yes.

As far as I was concerned coverage of the royal family was just another media soap opera designed to sell newspapers. I found the media’s obsession with them distasteful and embarrassing. There was no doubting, however, that Prince Charles was one of the most recognisable celebrities in the world and that upsetting him was a big deal for a naïve photographer like me.

Charles didn’t look at me once as he filed past, almost brushing my jacket, as though he didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of knowing that I had upset him. It was just another chapter in his daily battle with the paparazzi he so despised.

I was in a strange dream and had been from the moment that my bad-tempered boss had called me up to tell me that he was sending me to photograph royalty. It was my thirty-second birthday and the very day that I was moving in to my new home in my new city, living in my new life and doing my new job. All of a sudden I was facing a very different assignment to the routine cheque presentations I had been expecting. It came out of nowhere and when I asked for advice from my boss (as he had urged me to do a matter of days before) I received an ear-full of abuse.

I loaded my equipment up, strapped some of it to my back like a marine going into battle, and wandered through the drizzle into the circus scrum.

My first instinct was simply to follow the pack and do whatever they did. The village was tiny and most of the shops were too small for more than one photographer to go in with the royals. With unusual fairness and civility, it was decided that we would take it in turns.

A few of us followed them into a tiny church shortly after their arrival. As soon as the doors opened the Women’s Institute burst with fervent enthusiasm into song and did for Prince Charles’ considerable ears what I was later to do for his eyes. The royal couple did well to remain in the building and not turn around immediately and flee.

Later, my turn was to be inside the tiny art shop. That was my showdown with the heir to the throne.

When the showdown was over, back in the office, I went through the usual routine of cataloguing the pictures, choosing the best, printing out photocopies of them and delivering them somewhat warily to the picture desk where my boss may or may not be lurking and poised for attack.

At the end of the day I made my way to my new home. My wife and I sat on the floor in the conservatory, overlooking the wood, looking up at the stars and sharing a takeaway meal whilst waiting for our furniture to arrive. We felt excited and optimistic but I was living through an out-of-body experience. I could scarcely process what was happening to me, but a small, rational, part of my mind, didn’t trust any of it.

‘Wild Boars Cook’ by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall (Puffin 2008)

Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall team up again for the sequel to ‘Meet Wild Boars’ in which the boars, ever hungry, cook their own food.

Boris, Morris, Horace and Doris spy a recipe for a massive pudding after Doris begins to eat a cookbook. Utterly obsessed by food, the wild boars fantasize about ingredients and somehow manage to create an enormous pudding – which they subsequently eat in ‘ten seconds flat’ and in the rudest possible way. Still hungry they find a recipe for a massive cookie.

The appallingly badly behaved boars are good fun and the illustrations are very cleverly done (how would you illustrate a wild boar being selfish?) throughout. Some prefer the first book (‘Meet Wild Boars’) but I found this to be funnier and so did my kids. We still talk about pizzas ‘as big as the moon’!

I would recommend this book for parents with small children up to the age of six.

Book Review: ‘Meet Wild Boars’ (Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall 2005 Puffin)

Two experienced and award winning women collaborated on this 2005 picture book introducing naughty, dirty and disgusting wild boars. Meg Rosoff is a well-known writer, mainly of novels, and Sophie Blackall is equally as well known for her illustrations.

Children will enjoy the stinky wild boars especially when they fart and poo (always gets laughs with children – and me actually) and are generally badly behaved. They do all the things that children would love to do but aren’t allowed; they are anarchic and foul, mean, and downright nasty.

The book is about as long as is required for a picture book and works well for children up to 7 I would guess. My young children loved it although it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Memorable moments include Horace farting and soaking himself in the toilet; stinky Doris; and the pile of poo on the last page.

Worth getting hold of!

Ten Writing Tips

 

Here are some writing tips that you might not have found elsewhere.

 

1 Make sure you are comfortable

 

Writing can wreck your back unless you have a decent chair and a good posture. Writing whilst you are uncomfortable can be an unwanted distraction.

 

2 Make sure you are not hungry or thirsty

 

Being dehydrated or very hungry will affect your ability to write and concentrate so don’t push time just because you have found some inspiration.  If you manage to eat and drink a little you will probably be able to pick it up again afterwards, only this time, with better concentration.

 

3 Make sure you have the right conditions to write in

 

I always write with music in the background.  If you write with music blocking out background noises you will be able to keep your concentration.  I find music that I know really well doesn’t distract me but does keep other distractions out. Any random piece of conversation that I hear immediately stops me in my tracks.  Everyday noises are a real sentence breaker. Create a little cocoon of creativity

 

4 Make sure you are prepared

 

Being prepared before you write is a must.  You will save time if you plan properly.  If you set off on a book and half-way through you still aren’t sure what age group you are writing for or get stuck not knowing where you are headed or who your main character is you will end up having to re-write most of it. You need to know what your audience is and what kind of book you are writing.

 

5 Use random words

 

Random words can really create ideas.  There are different ways to get random words.  There are tools on the internet or you could just randomly open a dictionary.  Do people have dictionaries anymore?

 

6 Make sure you can avoid writer’s block

 

If your planning is held up by being stuck for ideas for flash fiction or a short story, an internet article or something else, and you are sitting at your desk with your head in your hands, have the courage to write the first sentence that comes into your head. I did this with one of my favourite short stories.  Out of the blue I came up with:

 

‘“You’re all slaves!” The Prophet raised his arms and violently shook his hands that were held together by the super-electronic shackles, his defiant voice pouring scorn upon their android posturing.’

 

I had no idea that I was going to write science fiction.  Where it came from I have no idea.

 

7 Write more than one story at a time

 

I’m sure that there is advice out there that will tell you to concentrate on one thing at a time.  You will never get anything done if you have more than one project on the go at the same time they will say. I disagree.  I find that having three or four books going at the same time helps me.  I don’t spend time at my desk with writer’s block.  If I’m stuck I’ll go to another one of my books and write for a while.  Some days I’m only in the mood for one or two of them.  I find that I can actually get a lot done this way.

 

8 Don’t let other people’s opinions destroy your originality

 

Time and time again I read about the importance of asking for feedback from other people and the absolute necessity of using editors and attending writing courses or joining local writer’s groups. There are occasions where feedback is good.  I read my children’s stories to my son and learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. However, I think originality is the x-factor that makes great authors great and I would hate to change my style because of someone else’s opinion (including agents or publishers).  Where is the satisfaction in writing exactly what you think will get published even if you hate it? It’s much better to be published for writing like yourself and no-one else.  It’s your project and it’s your right to do it exactly as you please. Break the rules! All the best art breaks the rules!

 

9 If you are not enjoying it it’s probably no good

 

When you have that buzz about what you have just written it’s probably good.  If you are bored the chances are that your audience will be also.

 

10 Don’t work too hard

 

One of the good things about being a writer is that it is a pleasure and a thrill to feel your creativity flowing.  Making it too much like hard work is going to turn you off writing. Give yourself a break and finish at a reasonable time. Give yourself enough time off and don’t be afraid to admit that it just isn’t working at any particular time. So go and do something else. Sir Elton John gives himself a very short amount of time to write a song in.  If it isn’t flowing after that he just gives up and does something else.

 

Book Review: ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’

Macmillan Children’s Books published ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’ back in 2006. The author and illustrator Chris Riddell is award-winning and wrote another favourite of mine, ‘Wendel’s Workshop’. See that review for more information about him.

The illustrations are consistent throughout and done very well. Children will love immersing themselves in them.

The theme of absurdity is down to the concept of the child having a dream that is influenced by all the things in his bedroom: his toys, pictures and books. At the beginning the concept is that this is a story about a real emperor in a real but very strange world. The twist at the end is that it is all a dream.

The words and pictures work well apart from some pictures not having enough words underneath them. I found myself wanting to dwell on the pictures but needing to move on because the words had run out.

Some small children may be a little scared by the sequence with the wild-looking dragon but it does add a little excitement to the story.

I found that the pictures at the front and back were good to stop and look at because of the amount of detail in them.

The ending works and my children haven’t tired of reading it.

It’s very nice in the hardback version.

Very good but not quite 5 stars.

Book Review: ‘Christopher Nibble’ by Charlotte Middleton

Charlotte Middleton wrote and illustrated this excellent little book about a guinea pig saving the dandelion from extinction and learning to love growing things.

I’m not going to analyse the book and wax lyrical about its eco-friendly theme or regurgitate the blurb. I’m just going to mention what works.

The illustrations have a sustained and original style, which is good because it helps children to immerse themselves into its unique world.

The choice of guinea-pig pants in the front and end of the book is always of interest: “which pants would you choose daddy?”

The words are easy to read and the decision not to rhyme everything (like most children’s authors feel the need to do) was a good one.

The amusing books in the library are fun for adults to find too: ‘War & Pizza’ anyone?

The double page spread of Christopher blowing the dandelion seeds works nicely.

The end is nice if not spectacular, amusing, or unexpected.

This is a book that is a pleasure to read and doesn’t try too hard. The author is wise to understand that at bedtime a gentle story can be just the ticket.

I, however, won’t be wearing pants and wellies in the garden any time soon.

Book Review: ‘Pulling The Trigger’

This is a book for sufferers of OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and related depression, currently sitting on top of Amazon’s search lists for books on those topics. Adam Shaw, a successful businessman and founder of a mental health charity, reveals his problems with OCD and how Lauren Callaghan’s approach to treating him worked. The book was published by Trigger Press in 2016, which is a publishing company created by Shaw (Managing Director) and Callaghan (Director).

As a sufferer from obsessive thoughts, anxiety and depression, and diagnosed with BPD I bought the book hoping for at least something helpful.

Reading through the book I remember being very frustrated as page after page (85 of them including the introduction to be precise) just detailed Adam Shaw’s problems and kept saying how wonderful the new approach to treatment was without going on to spell it out. It actually made me quite angry.

In the second part of book the back-slapping continued. I finished the book wishing that they had just written: ‘Adam had OCD and Lauren told him to accept it’. It would have saved me a lot of time, effort and cash. The conclusion is all that you really need to read.

Accepting that you have OCD and panic attacks is very difficult. Embracing it feels wrong. It is not for the faint-hearted and I can envisage many feeling that this approach is not for them. I’m not criticising the technique because it obviously works for some people. I just think this could have been an article on a website and not a book because it keeps repeating itself all the way through.

I would advise people to google treatment for OCD and read about it online instead.

Book Review: ‘I Know A Rhino’ (2002 Gullane Children’s Books)

‘I Know A Rhino’ (2002 Gullane Children’s Books) is written and illustrated by the award winning illustrator Charles Fuge.

The book benefits from Fuge’s gift for illustration. His pictures burst from the page in a cuddly loveliness that children must adore. The different animals are drawn brilliantly in his original style that lifts this book out of the ordinary.

It was a pity that his words didn’t get edited well. The book is written in rhyming couplets but they occasionally don’t fit – something that would have been obvious and easy to fix. For example:

‘I know an ape and we keep in good shape, miming pop songs and dancing along to a tape’.

Why didn’t his editor suggest cutting out ‘and dancing’ to make it scan better? ‘Miming pop songs along to a tape’ works much better. Strange. There are other examples as well that could have easily been sorted out.

However, as imperfect as the book is it still had worked well enough with my children to be used regularly. It’s more for very small children but the ending will have to be explained to them. Despite this, they love it.

Good – but not quite great.

Book Review: ‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’ by Charles Fuge and David Conway (2010, Hodder Children’s Books)

‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’ by Charles Fuge and David Conway was first published in 2010 by Hodder Children’s books. It was nominated for two prizes.

The Nosy Crow website has this biography of illustrator Charles Fuge:

‘Charles Fuge was born in 1966 and grew up in Bath. He made his picture book debut in 1988 with Bushvark’s First Day Out, which won both the Macmillan Prize and the Mother Goose Award. Since then Charles has illustrated over thirty books, a number of which he has also written. He is the illustrator for A Lullaby for Little One, written by Dawn Casey, and he lives in Dorset.’

David Conway has been involved in several children’s book projects and nominated for a number of awards.

I first came across Charles Fuge’s work when I bought books from the ‘Little Wombat’ series. His illustrations are the best I’ve seen in children’s books and the prime reason for buying ‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’. They are simply gorgeous, beautifully done, colourful and I’m sure they make children want to leap into the pictures and cuddle the animals.

This is a picture book and as such will be judged on its pictures. It is also a reading book and so must be judged, albeit to a lesser extent, on its words. The words (written by David Conway) are not up to the standard of the pictures. Do small children understand, or need to understand words like ‘hullabaloo’; ‘din’; ‘clamour’; ‘hubbub’; ‘rumpus’; ‘raucous’; or ‘cacophonous’? Try explaining the difference between those. Also, the words sound clumsy in this context with occasional rhyming being particularly awkward. The words feel like they should scan but they don’t. Either rhyme all the time or not at all. The alliteration (‘zany zebra’) works well throughout. I find it difficult to read the snoring sections but you may not.

The story itself is perfectly entertaining but the ending misses the mark and is a little anti-climactic; that all being said, my children have enjoyed it, and the hard-back version presents the wonderful illustrations nicely. Worth buying but not five stars.