Happy World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day Everyone! 

Since The Ghost Light came out in January, I’ve been having a lot of fun visiting schools and talking all about my love of mysteries and maths and the amazing Alice Jones. It’s been a new experience for me, since when my first two books came out I’d just had a baby, and so far it’s been fantastic!

Feeling like a super-star!

I’ve been so impressed by all of the students I’ve gotten to meet: Their questions and curiosity is so inspiring. And I have a feeling I’ve met more than a few future authors.

A skill anyone hoping to become a writer needs, is the ability to create compelling characters. One of my favorite bits during a school visit  is when a few brave volunteers dress up and I and the audience use their costumes (and our imagination) to turn them into a unique detective.

We give them strengths (are they brave? smart? well-prepared?) and weaknesses (a good character needs some flaws) and a special crime solving skill, Then we imagine what kind of crime they might come across? What clues would they notice that others might overlook? And  how will they be challenged by their weaknesses?

So far I’ve seen:

  • A detective with amazing eyesight, who is so sleepy she can barely stay awake.
  • A detective who is an expert horse rider, but who can’t swim (the students decided dropping a vital clue at the bottom of the swimming pool would be the perfect challenge)
  • A master of disguise with horrible fashion sense (we thought a mystery in a fancy-dress shop would be perfect!)

I’m off on another visit today, and I can’t wait to see what detectives we come up with!

Pick a prop. What does it say about your detective?

If any of you are interested in developing your own detective, here’s the worksheet that goes with the exercise. I’d love to see who you come up with. Happy Sleuthing!

It’s A Mystery!


I’m very excited to be speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival next month. I’m doing a panel with Katherine Woodfine all about mysteries and how we write them. Katherine is the author of the fabulous Clockwork Sparrow and Jewelled Moth Mysteries as well as host of Down The Rabbit Hole, a radio show all about kids books.  Our moderator is Alex O’Connell, The Times’ Arts editor. I am feeling very fancy.

This will be my first festival appearance and I’m equal parts nervous and thrilled. I’ve been having a lot of fun, though, going through all of the notes I made before writing The Impossible Clue and The Ghost Light (the next Alice Jones mystery) and  trying to figure out what the secret to writing a gripping mystery really is. If I figure it out, I promise to share.

It’s a Mystery will be on 8 October at 5pm in the Little Big Top. If you’re interested in coming to see me, you can find out more and book tickets here.

You can find out what other great events are going on at the festival here.

Demon Road by Derek Landy

I don’t read a lot of YA, mostly because I find romance *icky*. (I have the heart and soul of an eight-year-old.) Sure a hint of romance might be ok, but anything more than a quick peck after a long courtship and I’m hiding behind my fingers whispering ewwww!

BUT, I made an exception for Derek Landy. I loved the Skulduggery Pleasant Series so much, so when his new book Demon Road came out, I HAD TO HAVE IT. And then I couldn’t read it because I was finishing my own draft of the second Alice Jones Mystery.

But I finished my draft! And I devoured Demon Road in two days. (It would have been one, but I had to feed my children.)  Here’s the blurb:

51evp5grutL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Full of Landy’s trademark wit, action and razor sharp dialogue, DEMON ROAD kicks off with a shocking opener and never lets up the pace in an epic road-trip across the supernatural landscape of America. Killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers: they’re all here. And the demons? Well, that’s where Amber comes in…Sixteen years old, smart and spirited, she’s just a normal American teenager until the lies are torn away and the demons reveal themselves.

Forced to go on the run, she hurtles from one threat to another, revealing a tapestry of terror woven into the very fabric of her life. Her only chance rests with her fellow travellers, who are not at all what they appear to be…

What I love about this book is that you jump in and hit the ground running. The first line sets the pace  (seriously, go check it out) and things don’t slow down. Amber is on a supernatural road trip and every stop on the Demon Road, we get to deal with another villain from our worst nightmares. It’s such a clever set up, because it means the plot gets to have vampires, wicker-witches, demons AND a serial killer or two without feeling crowded.

Besides the sheer joy Landy obviously takes in writing scares, he’s also crafted a real and likable cast of characters. I love Amber, and how she has to deal with her inner demons (literally). A girl after my own heart, Amber has no time for blossoming romance while on the run for her life. Her response to an attempted kiss is priceless.

I’m going to cut this short before I squee all over the page. I recommend this book if you like genuine scary stories. There is blood, gore and major peril. Read at your own risk.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

One of my favorite authors is Louis Sachar. As a kid I laughed myself silly over Sideways Stories from Wayside School. And as an aspiring writer Holes blew my mind. The plot was so intricate it was almost sculptural. (And as a reader, Holes is just a really good read). SO, when The Cardturner came out, I rushed out to buy it. This was in 2010. It’s sat on my shelf for 5 years. To be honest, I think I was reluctant to read it because I loved Holes so much and I was afraid The Cardturner wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

I finally bit the bullet and read it, and kicked myself for not doing it sooner.


The summer holidays are looking bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him for his best friend. He has no money, no job, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, his parents are insisting that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week to be his cardturner – whatever that means. Lester Trapp is old, blind, very sick, and very rich.

But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious hold over him.

Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty but shy Toni Castaneda.

It’s a fun story, and while the plot may not be as complex as Holes, it did something else that was kind of amazing: It made me want to learn to play bridge. Sachar writes scenes of his characters playing bridge, like a fantasy writer writes a sword fight. It sounded fun and exciting and I’m seriously looking into Bridge Clubs in my area.

Holes will probably always be my favorite Louis Sachar book, but The Cardturner was a great read too and I’m so glad I finally picked it up.

The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life by Mark Lowery

Mark Lowery* is a funny guy! I should know, I had the hilarious pleasure of sharing a kitchen with him for a year when we were both mature (mature… snort) students at the University of Winchester. You’ve never really laughed until you’ve seen Mark sing Madonna’s Hanky Panky at pub karaoke night.

I loved Mark’s first two books (Socks Are Not Enough and Pants Are Everything-both shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize), so when his latest book was available I ordered my copy straight away.

Jam DoughnutA jam-fuelled week of disaster is set in motion by a single doughnut!

Roman Garstang is obsessed with food – particularly Squidgy Splodge raspberry-jam doughnuts – but he is about to learn that things are not always as sugar-coated as they might seem. Because of his Monday-morning jam doughnut, Roman’s week takes a very sticky turn . . .

By Friday Roman has been banned from eating for 24hrs, narrowly avoided a faceful of warm toddler-wee, accidentally shoplifted, been given a lift in a getaway van, styled his teacher’s guinea pig with a blue mohawk, started an OAP** riot . . . and still barely managed to scoff a crumb – or lick – of a single doughnut.

Who knew jam could be so deadly?

Mark has a real talent for writing the absurd. In the great British tradition of Basil Fawlty and Mr Bean, NOTHING goes right for our hapless hero, fate conspires against him at every turn and all his best intentions go horribly, hilariously wrong.

But more than that, Mark has the best turns of phrase. He writes things that make me laugh out loud as a reader and turn green with envy as a writer. Why didn’t I think to describe school cafeteria chocolate sponge as ‘as dry as a lizard’s underpants’?

I’d recommend this book to readers who like the Captain Underpants books, The Twits, Gangsta Granny and rooting for the underdog.

To find out more about Mark and his books (and read one of the funniest author bios of all time) visit his website: http://www.marklowery.co.uk/


*Since I know Mark, I can’t promise this review is 100% impartial BUT it is at least 99.99% impartial. If I hadn’t liked Jam Doughnut, I would have slunk away and hidden in the corner and never spoken to Mark again for fear he might ask me what I thought of it.

**For those reading this in America, OAP stands for Old Age Pensioners

It’s October, let the Halloween countdown begin!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Costumes and candy, what’s not to like? These days I get my thrills vicariously by handing out sweets at the door, but when I was a kid there was nothing like going out trick-or-treating with a group of friends.

Halloween 198?: That's me as Rainbow Brite

Halloween 198?: That’s me as Rainbow Brite

Here are 13 spooky books to celebrate the season:

1. In a Dark Dark Room and other Scary Stories Alvin Schwartz, Dirk Zimmer (Illustrator) This was the first ‘scary’ book that I had, and I loved it beyond compare. A collection of short stories with just enough scare for young readers.

2. I Spy Spooky Night: A Book of Picture Riddles Jean Marzollo, Walter Wick (Photographer) From the mad scientist’s laboratory in the basement to a spooky cemetery in the backyard, this visual walk through a haunted house is hours of spine tingling fun!

3. The Gashlycrumb Tinies Edward Gorey The definition of macabre.

4. Coraline Neil Gaiman This story is exciting and eerie, and does what all the best fairytales do: speaks to our deepest fears and helps us face them.

5. Clockwork Philip Pullman I won’t spoil it for you, I’ll just say I love how this book comes together. And it features the most terrifying ‘cuckoo clock’ of all time…

6. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth E.L. Konigsburg After reading this book, I became obsessed with becoming a witch. Not strictly spooky, but a great story about loneliness and friendship (and witches).

7. The Pickle King Rebecca Promitzer The atmosphere of this book is so deliciously oppressive it felt like I was reading underwater. And there are ghosts too!

8. Skulduggery Pleasant Derek Landy A great action series with a skeleton detective and his apprentice/sidekick, Valkyrie Cane.

9. The Witches Roald Dahl Roald Dahl pulls no punches, the Grand High Witch is the scariest character I encountered as a child.

10. The Wardstone Chronicles Joseph Delaney Another great series. Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son, specially gifted to fight creatures of evil. The books follow his apprenticeship with the current Spook (professional evil-fighter) as he learns and battles all manner of things that go bump in the night.

11. One Day at Horrorland (Goosebumps #16) R.L. Stine I read Goosebumps like they were popcorn, but this was always a special favorite because of my childhood summers at Wonderland in Ocean City.

12. All the Lovely Bad Ones Mary Downing Hahn A classic haunting story, with some very naughty children…

13. The Letter, The Witch and the Ring John Bellairs I could put all of John Bellairs’ modern-gothic books on this list, but this one will always be my favorite. Rose Rita Pottinger and her friend (and real live witch) Mrs. Zimmerman are drawn into a terrifying world of occult mysteries.

  • Fun random fact: The baby in that picture is Ryan O’Keefe from the band River Whyless. Clifford the Big Red Dog is his brother Brendan: puppeteer, performer, builder of magical dwellings, and general renaissance man. The little Rainbow Brite? That’s me!

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue has a cover!

Alice-Jones-678x1024Maths-whizz Alice has already solved a mystery or two.

Persuaded by wannabe sidekick Sammy to investigate a scientist’s disappearance, she’s soon entangled in her trickiest case yet. Dr Learner is reputed to have invented an invisibility suit, but is wacky science really to blame for his vanishing?

With the unlikely help of erstwhile nemesis Kevin, Alice solves the puzzle – only to face another. Should she reveal the truth, or protect her most devoted friend?

I’m so excited to share the cover art for my next book, Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue (coming 4 February 2016) designed by the lovely Helen Crawford-White. I love the bright orange, and the nod to Alice’s interest in math and logic in the background.

For more information and updates check out my publisher Chicken House.