Category Archives: Writing

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?


IMG_20140228_085958During my fantastic two-day visit to Chase Lane Primary School in Chingford last week, no one asked every author’s least favourite question. The children – all seven hundred of them – were far too bright and curious for anything so dull.


A real Space Penguin?

Instead, I was asked about my use of describing words by a girl in Year Two, and whether I used blurb, and how long penguins live for, and whether penguins in space are real, and if I had books in Chinese, and what book I would recommend for a girl not interested in girly stuff. ‘That penguin in space. Was it dead?’ was dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction as I explained that the Hubble telescope’s picture of a space penguin was in fact a photograph of stars and nebulae and red bits for which I had no name. I was able to tell them that yes I had met most of the authors they mentioned, although caveats applied to David Walliams. I have yet to establish whether he heard me in the Bristol University Union circa 1989 in my band, the Smokin’ Bristols, but live in hope.


Meet and greet

learned about aunts called Lucy and sisters called Courtney. I was told about trips to the seaside, and sick brothers, and pets. I saw for myself the esteem in which the children held their books in every single classroom’s beautifully themed Book Corners, designed to celebrate Book Week – hot air balloons, jungles, castles, spaceships, bedrooms and caves and tents – and had the unenviable task of judging them.


Out 3 March 2014

Everywhere I went, I was followed by excitable whispering. That’s her! Hi Lucy! It’s Lucy Courtenay! I was a rock star. I was a TV celebrity.


I was an author.


Big Library Love


Farnham Library's new extension.

Farnham Library’s new extension.

PLR time!

PLR stands for many things. Potato Liberation Regiment. Polyunsaturated Lemon Rinds. For authors, it means angel music  from the clouds, known more specifically as Public Lending Right.

I knew nothing about PLR before I became an author. Then I heard the whispers.

‘With PLR, you earn approximately 5p every time someone borrows one of your books from a library. Last year I earned enough to buy a Caribbean island*!’

Frankly disbelieving, I settled down to debating percentage splits with my illustrators. I filled in some forms. I waited. And in February of that first year I stared at my bank balance with incredulity.

Here are some statistics to send you running half-crazed into the street screaming and rending your beards.

My borrowed books stand as tall as THIS.

My borrowed books stand as tall as the Sneeuberg.          (Bless you.)

Based on data from 45 library authorities, 22372 writers, illustrators, photographers, ghost writers, editors, translators and adapters will receive anything from £1 to £6600 this year. 200 people (1.3% of the whole) earn the maximum amount. If you make more than £6600, the extra money goes back into the system to pay everyone else. 

77 books of mine were borrowed 202,663 times. Assuming each book is 20cm long, a row of them would stretch for 25 miles. I could line the whole A31 from Farnham to Winchester. If each book is approximately 1cm thick, I could stack them on top of each other to a  height of 2026 metres, matching the snowy apex of the Sneeuberg in South Africa.

This is not me. This is better than the one of me.

This is not me. This is better than the one of me.

And PLR is so fabulously levelling. Once a year, puny authors like me can be in the same earning bracket as the leviathans. ‘I earned the same as that JK Rowling last year, yeah…’  It’s a massive part of the average author’s annual income, which can be terrifyingly sporadic. And it doesn’t cost you a THING. 

So I say this to you. All of you.


You pay for my children’s shoes, my annual heating bills, that blackmailer who regularly threatens to post photographs of me with a horrifying teen mullet. I  love you for it and will buy you a coffee next time we meet!

*sandbank of the small variety

Inside The Teenage Mind


HB 1 coverMy hormones are INSANE and NO ONE is respecting my boundaries and it’s all boys and drama and coursework and selfies and it’s like there’s fireworks exploding in my head – which is totally confused totally all of the time – and my body is ballooning in the weirdest directions and ZOMG I have BOOBS now although they are worse than pathetic they don’t even extend past my ribcage and don’t even get me STARTED on the cow in the corridor today who eyeballed my skirt like she’d never seen a skirt like it before and I’m, hello? It’s called a SCHOOL UNIFORM and double hello? YOU’RE WEARING IT TOO, and what the 1D’s wrong with everyone?

*snorts like a bull*

*applies more mascara*

So he says he’ll call me but does he call me of course he doesn’t call me because all boys are liars and I wish they weren’t even on the same planet as us and more especially I wish they weren’t on Facebook with 1643 friends until we actually need them and there’s this one boy? I don’t even like him but I could be twerking through the science block and would he notice me no because I don’t wear make-up HB 2 coverand my phone is the worst phone in the universe because it doesn’t have 4G (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and I’ve never been to Glasto (WRECK MY LIFE EVIL NON-PARENTS) and I don’t support Chelsea United or whatever other saddo teams are out there because footballers are too rich and drive cars that wreck the planet and also nick my mum’s favourite parking space at Waitrose and fill the magazines with their girlfriends’ insanely perfect skinny bodies and I have a BUTT so get over it H&M and make skinny jeans that actually FIT REAL PEOPLE why don’t you.

I need marshmallows. And FaceTime. And nail varnish. And I cannot WAIT for HEARTSIDE BAY to come out in February 2014 because the characters will understand this dumb whirlpool the world calls adolescence and those of us who have to endure its ENDLESSNESS and POINTLESSNESS and there will be hot boys that will notice me somehow through the pages and make me feel better about all of it.

AlexPBut I’ll probably have to keep nicking the books back off my mum sad cow who will read them too and pretend she’s fifteen again because it was fun when she did it (riiiight) and she wants to remember the good times they had in the Victorian days wearing a ra-ra skirt Gran made her out of a pillowcase and eating rainbow crystals from the sweet shop (totally not what they sound like) and watching Bruce Willis when he had hair on some TV cheesefest called Moonlighting.

Here’s Alex Pettyfer.

You know, because.

Here Endeth the End


There’s a great new blog entry from my super-lovely agent Stephanie Thwaites over on, all about starting books with that all-important opening. That hook that gets right into your mouth and tugs.

wildtiger-1My first sentence for WILD #1: TIGER TROUBLE is:

‘When a tiger lands on you first thing in the morning, even when they’re four months old, you know about it.’

Did I land you? You at the back, stop chortling.

Steph’s blog made me think about ending stuff with bangs too. Nothing muted, nothing neat. Something that goes boom. Literally in the case of TIGER TROUBLE:

‘Did… our house just blow up?’

I confess that this was designed as a springboard into the next book, where it returns as the first sentence. What a cop out. My favourite example of a real, no-hidden-agenda-or-follow-up-book BANG of an ending is Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22.

‘The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.’

wileDoes anyone produce endings like that any more? Endings that revel in inconclusiveness? I haven’t noticed Wile E. Coyote running off his cliff lately. These days he invests in better footwear, makes friends with Road Runner and stops subscribing to all those hopeless Acme products.


In my picture book text, the main character is eaten and NOT regurgitated in a fit of penitence and stomach acid. Yay for that. Now I’m reaching the end of my teenage novel and the scent of challenge is in my nostrils. How best to bring all the strings of my hormonal balloons together and ignite them in such a way that the balloons explode in a synchronised blast of shredded rubber? As it were? (Is that guy at the back still laughing?)

Any breathtaking endings out there that you love?

Children’s Laureate: the Challenge


_67955667_malorie-blackman-photoMalorie Blackman is the new Children’s Laureate 2013-2015. A triumphant choice. Here’s what I would like to see her do.

  • Introduce a primetime weekly TV show where people discuss children’s books with wit and humour while armed with large bags of Tangfastics. I will happily go on that show. Tangfastics fuel a tremendous urge for dialogue within me, plus a desire to climb trees and surf down Firgrove Hill on an ironing board. Haribo might like to sponsor this show.
  • Talking of ironing boards, let’s encourage people to act out famous scenes from children’s books like Alex Rider’s ironing board stunt in Point Blanc and post them up on social media with links to bookshops. (I am happy to volunteer. Price, one box of Tangfastics.)
  • Have a different celebrity a month commit to carrying a children’s book with them wherever they go, so children can see a book as an awesome accessory considerably less painful than a belly ring.
  • Ensure that national newspapers dedicate a quarter of their book review space to children’s books, as an accurate reflection of the 1 in 4 books sold today being children’s titles. (Thank you, outgoing Laureate Julia Donaldson for raising this.)
  • Start a guerrilla library movement. Set up libraries in unlikely places. Overnight. WITH NO WARNING. Make them mysterious, not municipal.
  • UnknownEncourage adults to hold children’s book clubs. Not children’s book-clubs, but CHILDREN’S-BOOK CLUBS. Instead of talking endlessly about Fifty Shades of Boring, grown-ups can read and discuss, for example, funny cancer, the perils of floating, parallel worlds and the role of dragons in society. They can then make informed choices for their children, passing on those books which have caused genuine tears / laughter / bladder-control issues instead of blind-buying titles they have vaguely heard of or maybe read themselves in Upper Fourth in 1953.
  • Enshrine library lessons in schools.
  • Make sure every primary school child has a library card.

What? The library card one’s already in hand? Hot damn, I knew she was a good choice.

Split Personality


I write lots of different kinds of books. Animals, aliens, fairies, monsters. And now I’m writing about… teenagers. But also writing about… penguins. And shortly pitching about… jungles.

This could end badly.


Mwa mwa mwa

The teenagers are kissing, fighting, acting, singing and dancing, dreaming of boys and girls, organising parties, painting each other like zombies. There are French exchange girls with boys on the brain, a moon with the kind of powers you don’t want to mess with and a dude in dodgy trainers. Did I mention the kissing? There’s lots of kissing.


Aim at the teenager! BOOP!

The penguins are zooming around in space, escaping from warring weirdos with too many eyes and a vast space zoo full of creatures to give Mexican bird-eating spiders nightmares as they fold up their long hairy legs and quake in the Central American undergrowth. Wham! Blam! Boop! (Intrepid pilot Rocky Waddle wishes to advise you never to peer down the barrel of a stun gun when it goes ‘Boop’.)

The jungle is enduring a cross little girl with too many opinions and absolutely no idea that she’s being followed by something large and hungry.


I have bare red knees innit

AND NONE OF THEM ARE BEING WRITTEN because I’m writing YOU. I have to concentrate or lose not just spinning plates but entire meals balanced thereon. At least one of my plates has a full roast lunch on it and gravy is going everywhere.

Where was I? Oh yes. Zombie penguins in the jungle.

*pootles off, whistling vaguely*


Eating One’s Words


Spot the difference. One of these is a cake. One is the cover of the book. WHICH IS WHICH?



***** suspenseful music *****

The one on the left is, of course, the cake,

made by Holly Webb!

*loud cheering*

(Or do I mean the one on the right?)


I urge you to check out the rest at the Edible Book Festival over at Do it now. There are 61 entries from 5 continents. Load the pictures as a slideshow. I can wait.

*checks email, makes another cup of coffee*

Seen them? Aren’t they brilliant? Holly’s should win of course, because I am entirely biased and she has caught Space Penguin Captain T. Krill to a T (Krill). Seems a shame to eat it, really. I must remind myself that this is what cakes are for.

UPDATE: Holly’s cake came second! Whoop whoop!