Alice Jones’ Favorite Philly Foods

One of the most fun things about setting the Alice Jones mysteries in Philadelphia is that she gets to snack on lots of delicious Philadelphia food. Here are a few of Alice’s favorites:

pretzel

Soft Pretzels (with mustard) – Soft and warm with big square salt crystals, there’s nothing quite like getting a pretzel from one of the many food carts around the city. Alice likes to add a bit of brown mustard to spice it up.

 

 

cheesesteakCheesesteaks – Probably the most iconic Philly Food. A cheesesteak is made of thin slices of grilled steak and fried onions on a soft roll covered with melted cheese (traditionally Cheez Whiz or provolone). Don’t forget your napkins!

 

waterice2Water Ice – Sort of like a very firm slushie, water ice comes in every flavor you can imagine and is way more refreshing than ice cream. I had to call it Italian Ice in The Impossible Clue, but everyone from Philly knows it’s really called Water Ice!

 

tastykake2Tastykakes – These mini snack cakes are made in Philadelphia and come in a variety of flavors. Sort of like twinkies, but so much better! I like the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. Alice prefers the classic Butterscotch Krimpets.

 

phoPho-Not a traditional Philly dish, but a growing favorite. Philadelphia has a strong Vietnamese community. Pho is a spicy noodle soup.  Alice and her dad enjoy seeing just how spicy they can handle their Pho

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Creating characters-or-Listening to the voices in my head.

When I’m writing, one of the first things I like to do is get to know my characters. I spend time daydreaming about who they are. Do they have hobbies? What kind of food do they eat?  What was the absolute worst most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to them? What are their dreams and fears? I’ll spend a long time doing this, jotting down notes. At first I get a lot of things wrong, but eventually my characters start to develop a life of their own. And that’s when they start talking to me.

I’m not joking.

When a character takes shape I can hear her shouting at me in the back of my head. (I imagine a more polite character would gently clear her throat to correct me in the nicest way possible, but I haven’t written one like that yet).

‘No!’ they holler. ‘I wouldn’t wear that! Not enough pockets!’

-or-

‘That might be how you walk down the street, but not me! I have way more rhythm than that!’

Here is the first real thing Alice Jones said when I asked her to introduce herself:

My name is Alice Jones. I’m a detective. I’m also a schoolgirl. In fact, if you were to draw a Venn diagram labeled Fig. 1: Alice Jones, it might look something like this:

AJVennIgnore that small circle in the corner. That’s not important!”

 

Of course, once she said THAT I just had to know what that Little Miss Friendship business was all about. I also knew Alice was real and ready to move out of my head and into a book of her own.

 

My Inspiration: The Boyd Theater

 

The second Alice Jones mystery is out in two more weeks! I can hardly believe it. In anticipation, here is another look behind the scenes…

Alice Jones: The Ghost Light is set in an old, run down theater called the Beryl. The Beryl was once the finest theater in Philadelphia, but after a fire in 1927, it fell into ruin, got a reputation for being cursed and sat  derelict for almost a century. It’s an amazingly grand building beneath the years of soot and decay, full of drama and majesty. It’s also completely fake.

There are a lot of reasons I chose to create my own theater instead of using a real one, but the biggest was so that I could have total control of all the exits and entrances and any secret spaces that *might* exist.

But, the (fake) Beryl Theater was inspired by a very real one in the heart of Center City: The Boyd.

My inspiration was twofold. First, The Boyd inspired the look of the Beryl. I love its art deco styling and the immense amount of detail everywhere in the building. I mean, it was a room for watching movies in the dark, but they still  intricately carved and painted the ceiling, and custom designed the carpets. Of course, the paint is peeling and there are chips in the moldings-but you can still see how amazing it was once upon a time.

Stairs to the balcony, a sign for the lounge and detail etched into the lobby door. Photos courtesy of Friends of the Boyd, Inc.

 

Colored glass detail, fountain-themed plaster molding and the lobby stairway niche. Photos courtesy of Friends of the Boyd, Inc.

But beyond just looks, I was inspired by the story of The Boyd and the people struggling to save it from demolition.

Starting in 2002, The Friends of the Boyd worked tirelessly to keep the theater going and restore the building to its former glory. I can remember seeing one Friends of the Boyd newsletter at my parents house and being mesmerized by the photos of the theater.

The exterior of the Boyd today.

The graffiti inspired a brand new character!

Sadly, the auditorium wing of the Boyd was demolished in 2015. The facade and Grand Lobby, however, are still standing and The Friends of the Boyd are working to rehome many of the period features saved from inside the building.

The Beryl, I’m pleased to say, gets a happier ending.

 

 

A Day in Philadelphia

This summer I took a trip to America to visit my family on the other side of the Atlantic. We started in Maine and ended in New Jersey, but I had a day to do a whirlwind tour of Philadelphia, the home of Alice Jones.

drivingintophilly

A view of the skyline as we drive in, you can just see William Penn’s statue on top of City Hall.

When I was growing up, I spent most of my summers in Philadelphia with my dad and three of my four siblings. When I was very young (and still an only child), we lived on South Street right in the center of the city, surrounded by funky shops and artists. We lived down the road from Isaiah Zagar, an amazing muralist who decorated the walls of the city with found object mosaics. If you are ever there, visit The Philadelphia Magic Garden! It’s amazing.

Magic Garden by Kevin Burkett

A fork in the road at the Magic Garden. Someday I’ll set something here!

Later, when my siblings arrived, we moved out of the city. But we’d still visit all the time. One of my favorite places to go was The Franklin Institute an enormous science museum full of fabulous interactive exhibits. Alice, being a math and science fan, shares my love of The Franklin. 

Check out Alice hanging out on the steps outside.  And me trying to share a copy of The Impossible Clue with Ben Franklin. He wasn’t biting…

 

I also stopped by the Philadelphia Free Library to see the steps where Alice and Kevin make their first big breakthrough in the case of the invisible scientist. One thing this visit REALLY reminded me, was just how HOT Philly can be in the summer. I remembered the heat on an intellectual level, but I’d forgotten what it really felt like – the intensity and how sticky it makes you. Check out my frazzled hair as I pose!

 

A few more highlights:

One of the city’s many beautiful murals. A touch of history (note the flag). And, of course, a food cart like the one in The Impossible Clue where Alice buys soft pretzels and spots the mysterious silver Mercedes.

Philadelphia is a great city and it deserved more than just a day, but it was fun to go on even a short trip down memory lane with Alice. If you live in Philly or have visited, I’d love to see your photos and hear about your favorite places in the city! 

Girls in STEM

Since Alice Jones:The Impossible Clue came out, it’s been in two lists celebrating Girls in STEM (here and here). I had to look up what this meant.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, fields that have traditionally/stereotypically been labeled as ‘for boys’.

Why didn’t I know this? Well, probably because I went to a school with tons of super smart girls (and boys too) and we all took Calculus and Physics together along with AP English and History. I don’t remember ever being discouraged because I was female, but I had this core of strong, smart supergirl friends all around me.
For girls who don’t have that circle of support, I’m glad Alice can be there to show them that loving math can absolutely be a girl thing!

Derian Dreams Bedtime Story Collection

Audiobookcover

Last year my friend Mark Lowery got in touch with me and a bunch of other children’s authors. He was writing a short story for children’s charity Derian House to record as a bedtime audiobook and wanted to know if we wanted in. We did!

Derian House is a wonderful charity, providing palliative and respite care for children with life shortening conditions. This audiobook is part of their 2016 Great Derian Dream Campaign, aiming to give each family with a child in their care an extra night of respite care.

 

Here’s the full line up of stories and authors and amazing readers!

1-Rotten Robbin And The Crooked Cutlass written by George Kirk, read by Ted Robbins
2-Dizzy Dog written by Alan Durant, read by Dave Spikey
3-The Smelly Unicorn written by Natasha Desborough, read by Julie Hesmondalgh
4-Rosie And The Tooth Fairy written by Sarah Rubin, read by Jenny Platt
5-Pickles First Flight written by Jo Dearden, read by Jane Horrocks
6-Scaredy Bat written and read by Jonathan Meres
7-Keep An Eye On The Baby written by Mark Lowery, read by Steve Pemberton
8-Amy Warburton’s Most Unusual Pet written by Steve Hartley, read by Connie Hartley
9-Poems written and read by Ian Bland
10-Siegfried And The Snoring Snarflebeast Of Sevenoaks written by Mo O’hara, read by Susie Poppitt

11-He Should Have Listened To Granddad written by Steve Hartley, read by Danny Cipriani & Mark Cueto

AND the beautiful cover illustration was donated by Nick Sharratt (that’s right, I’m in a book illustrated by Nick Sharratt…shhh, let me bask)


I had so much fun writing my short story, Rosie and the Tooth Fairy, about a girl who wants to know what the Tooth Fairy actually does with all those teeth anyway? It’s narrated by the wonderful actress Jenny Platt (best known as Violet Wilson from Coronation Street) who is a blast to listen to.

You can get a copy of just my story OR the whole lot from amazon or itunes. All proceeds go to Derian House.

North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards

NSTBookAwardBanner

Last week, I got the news that Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue had been longlisted for the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards in the ‘Moving On’ category. The longlist is packed with great titles, and I’m on there with them. How exciting!
MovingOnExI’m super proud to be a part of this new category. I didn’t start reading for fun until I was eight, but took off like a rocket when I did. I was always looking for a challenge, a book with a bit more meat. But I had NO interest in teen themes. (If I’m honest, I didn’t really have any interest in ‘teen themes’ until I was almost halfway through them myself). I wanted a good read about family and friendship, adventure and mystery.

I’d never really put it together before, but the books I write now I write for the 10-year-old version of me.Books starring smart, self-assured girls full of bravery and determination having amazing adventures and making their dreams come true. And it’s an honor that the North Somerset Teachers who put The Impossible Clue on the longlist would recommend it to another reader in my shoes.