The Magic of Surprises

The B5B Breakfast Room (Flowerdews Winchester)

Nobody knows where I am.

That’s a lie. Only a handful of people know where I am: the friend I’m away with (to attend the SCBWI British Isles Conference 2015), the people who own the B&B and Maybe, spies or hackers, but I doubt my stay in Winchester will interest either. Yet, when I arrive there’s a parcel waiting for me, wrapped in anonymous brown paper. No return address.

Huh. Nobody knows I’m here. Nobody I’d expect a parcel from.

Forgot to snap the parcel before opening it, so here’s a SCBWI breakout session about writing comics – it does, at least, involve brown paper and surprises!

Do I dare open it? It could be something cool, useful or important, but it could be a whole host of terrible things: severed digits, pirate’s curses and jellied frogs not withstanding. This is what every character in a story needs – Internal Conflict.

The longer I stare at and speculate with my writer friend, the more suspense builds up. I am, as they say, on the edge of my seat. Not knowing what’s inside is exciting, a strange mix of needing to know (to end any anxiety) and the anticipation of pleasure (to be rewarded for my wait).

I slowly remove the glossy dark brown tape trying hard not to tear the crisp manila packing paper.

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Magic Making Dept Rocks!

This is the thing about surprises. They’re vital to any story. A story without surprises is dull. Whether it’s a genie magically appearing from a lamp, learning you’re a boy wizard (please make the parcel from Hogwarts) or an internal revelation that a character is stronger than they think, the surprise fuels drama. A good writer builds up to each surprise, sometimes with the knowledge of the reader (as often happens in horror, part of the suspense is knowing that a surprise is coming), and sometimes hoping desperately for the reader not to see it coming. Every scene should have a surprise relevant to the character and/or plot.

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Thanks Danielle!

Back to the parcel. Inside, another mystery that keeps the suspense going: a stick of rock, two purple parcels and a white envelope sealed with crimson wax.

Further investigation reveals a letter from the ‘Magic Making Dept’ at

“A little birdie told us that you’re quite the writer, so we’ve added a touch of magic to this parcel that we hope you can put to good use.”

Unwrapped Surprise!

Quickly unwrapping the purple packages, I become the owner of a stylish new pen and notebook. In the language of writing,  resolution achieved.

The surprise is, on reflection, that I feel a valued person by, that I’m more than just a customer. And, when it comes to my writing, I’m going to extend that thought to my characters, and treat them to their own special surprises.



p.s. Thank you to Danielle, the Magic Maker, and to all the volunteers and faculty that  make the SCBWI BI conference happen and special. Everything made this a great weekend and I’m feeling inspired to tackle my new book with gusto.

WIN fab books in Mango’s Birthday Raffle!

Here’s a great literacy charity action with some fabulous book prizes!


Last year I did an event at the Leaf Cafe and Bookshop in Hertford (OMG, it is SO cute; you must check it out if you’re nearby) and I bumped into the awesomely inspiring Mango Bubbles Boy, who set up his very own review blog last year and is possibly the most enthusiastic reader I’ve ever met.

Well, Mango’s website is coming up for its first birthday, and he’s raising money for the brilliant charity Beanstalk by holding a raffle. And there are some AMAZING prizes to be won – just click here to see the list of signed books up for grabs, and there are more being added every day!

Beanstalk is a truly wonderful charity, helping to promote reading all over the country, and we at GHB are very proud to be supporting Mango’s birthday celebrations for such a good cause. Do enter (on the ‘click here’ link…

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Friendship – Write About It!

Here’s a great competition for girls aged 11 to 18. It might seem a scary idea to write something and send it off to be judged, but it’s a great thing to do regardless of winning!


If you think friends are worth shouting about, here’s your chance!  This writing competition is for girls ages 11-13, 14-16, and 17-18.  The story is to be fictional – the maximum length is 1000 words – the deadline is Friday 3rd July 2015 – and the theme is


So why not give it a go – all the details can be found here – and be sure to let us know how you get on!

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Star Fighting: Does ghostwriting help with marketing and promotion?

Until I was asked to be interviewed by a lovely friend of mine, Larisa Villar Hauser, I hadn’t really considered what I had gained in terms of marketing and promotion from having ghosted eight books so far. I was pleasantly surprised that, as I thought about her questions, it seemed that I had gained a lot of experiences – some from seeing how an amazing company like Working Partners, or, the brilliant publishers Bloomsbury, went about their business, and some from trying to raise my own profile and trying to get more school visits. Needless to say, I was flattered to be interviewed.

"Leaflet drop" by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Getting print work distribution right is hard work
“Leaflet drop” by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One tip that I didn’t think of, at the time, was the practicalities of getting print promotional work done. It’s often easy to get side-tracked by the practical process (designing, or finding a designer, print specs, finding a budget for a print run, etc). However, it’s important to not forget distribution. If you decide on getting a postcard done, who is it aimed at? How will they get hold of it? Where else can you distribute it? If you ever walked past someone handing out leaflets in the street, watch them for a while – it’s amazing how hard it is sometimes to give away promotional materials! There’s always a danger of ending up with hundreds or thousands of postcards, leaflets and bookmarks taking up space in your home and office – if they’re not released into the world, they can’t help get the word out about your book!

You can read the interview and my thoughts on books, writers and promotion here: Star Fighting.


Spine of Week: Stuff by Beery

Not only is it called Stuff, it's by Beery.

Walking past a secondhand bookshop today, I noticed this interesting title on their £1 shelf. It’s written for “every person interested in the romantic stoy of the stuff used in daily life, be he eight or eighty.” I won’t go into gender politics as I’m sure Pauline G Beery is just using the mascaline pronoun to keep her dedication short and well-crafted.

The first illustration of the book is”Prince Rahotep and Princess Nefert could well be smug!”. How could I not buy this book?