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Monday, 19 January 2015


Carolyn and Katie Clapham

Make 2015 the year you  rediscover reading.

So say the owners of a thriving independent bookshop as major booksellers report record sales in physical books during the  recent holiday period.

Carolyn and Katie Clapham opened Storytellers, Inc. in the seaside town of St Annes in Lancashire in 2010. At the end of last year the mother-and-daughter team expanded their popular children's book shop into a 'book place for everyone,' stocking everything from YA through to adult fiction and non-fiction. They are now anticipating a busy year ahead.

The shop's original aim was to provide children with a welcoming environment in which to meet, read and play.  Creative director Katie, formerly production editor of a medical journal, works with local schools on writing and reading projects. Managing director Carolyn took the plunge into business after more than twenty years experience at a senior level in the civil service and in the private sector.

The owners are very proud of their professional calendar of children's illustrators, which takes pride of place in the shop window.  Now in its third year, the calendar features many pieces of original artwork from award-winning illustrators and new industry talent.

Free illustrations were donated by  Emily Gravett, Steven Lenton, Tim Hopgood, Mini Grey, Chris Haughton, Lucy Cousins, Chris Judge, Mo Willems, Tom Percival, Rebecca Cobb and Lydia Monks to support The Illustrations Calendar 2015.  Every month the shop sends books and worksheets inspired by the illustrator of the month to participating schools in the area.  In addition several other  bookshops stock the calendar to run their own Illustrated Year project with school customers.

Carolyn and Katie also run a popular Fiction Book Club for adults where local readers meet to discuss their 'book of the month.' This month's choice is Naomi Wood's best-selling novel Mrs. Hemmingway, which brings to life in extraordinary detail the four wives of Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest writers of our time.

Naomi will be joining the book club's evening session to discuss her work.  Members pay £7 (including the book rrp £7.99) and non members are also welcome for a £4 entrance fee. Storytellers, Inc. also run two junior book clubs, a teen club and a group for adult readers who enjoy books written for a slightly younger audience.

Meanwhile the shop is championing the new World Book Day award which celebrates reading for pleasure in schools. Five schools will get the opportunity to win up to £10,000 worth of books for their libraries, thanks to the generosity of James Patterson, author of the popular Middle School series.

Carolyn believes that children love to touch and feel books. 'If they are introduced to reading at an early age it can be an interest that lasts a lifetime,' she says. 'We hope as many families as possible will be visiting their local bookshops during 2015.'

I hope so too.

Storytellers, Inc.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Read this letter - it might make you want to write your own!

'I have made such a nice little purchase today - two little girls of seven years old, rather ugly, and one of them dumb.'

This startling letter was written in 1839 by a Emily Eden, a respected upper class English lady, whilst staying  in Calcutta with her brother who was Governor General of India at the time. The  content is  truly shocking, not but just because it seems barbaric by today's standards, but because as an articulate  means of communication, it is a lesson to us all.

Whilst doing some research into the lost art of letter-writing recently, I came across my original copy of Olga Kenyon's fascinating book  800 Years of Women's letters which is packed so full of revealing epistles that would be impossible to read in one sitting.

Eden goes on to say : The natives constantly adopt orphans - either distant relations or children that they buy - and generally they make no difference between them and their own children; but these little wretches were very unlucky. Describing their sorry state she adds: they have not a stitch of clothes on and one of them is rather an object, the man has beat them so dreadfully, and she seems stupefied.'

In an illuminating foreword to the book author P.D.James, the prolific crime writer who died at the end of last year, writes: 'No literary form is more revealing, more spontaneous or more individual than a letter.'

In this book you can find letters from Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf in correspondence with each other, and Florence Nightingale exclaiming 'There is not an official who would not burn me like Joan of Arc if he could, but they know the War Office cannot turn me out because the country is with me.'

All this leads me to think that letter writing is an art that has been lost altogether by today's generation.  Not unlike a short story or piece of prose, the letter of the nineteenth century, for example, was full of imagery, description, consideration, prophecy, indignation, love, pain and a whole host of emotions that we seem to have lost the ability to describe.

I still have copies of the letters I sent to my own grandparents when I was a small child which inevitably started with I hope you are well and went on to describe whatever it was that I had done at home or at school that week.   The letters sometimes took hours to perfect, but they were carried to the letterbox with a strong feeling of pride and satisfaction.  Was this, then, the beginning of my story telling?

And if people are no longer writing letters, but just texting 'RU ok? CU 2nite,' how will they elucidate their feelings in the future?

Instead of making teenage pupils learn about subjects that have long ceased to be relevant to their lives, how about getting them to write letters: letters to themselves, to their families, letters to politicians, to people they admire, to world leaders, to anyone they feel could make an impact on the future.  What do you think?

My original version of the book which has been reprinted many times.
It is still available from the link below.

Emily Eden's  letter, part of which is reprinted above, was first published in her book Up the Country, Letters from India: 1983 (Virago Travellers)


Monday, 5 January 2015

The year I (almost) forgot how to write..

The year I became an author was the year I forgot how to write. Well, almost.

I've been an avid writer since the day I could hold a pen and, after a career as a freelance journalist, had one more dream to fulfil: to become a published author. In 2014 that dream came true with the publication of Baggy Pants and Bootees, a time slip novel about one girl's  search for her GI father. And that's when the problem started.

So what exactly became  more important than writing? First of all there was the advance publicity. Not too difficult, you might think, for someone with my background.  But writing about what's going on in the world and writing about yourself are, well, very different things.

My mother always told me not to blow my own trumpet (fortunately I'm not musical) so self promotion is not on my list of inherent characteristics. Neither is emailing friends and family (and anyone else I can think of) to tell them about my latest career move.

And why did no-one explain to me that twitter, unlike its name,  was anything but frivolous and took longer to build an audience than a busker in a snowstorm. Social media  became social mediation in our house as my on-line presence almost  trebled overnight. 'I'm writing,' I would assure my other half when he caught me logging on at 3am. But then how could I ignore that lovely lady in California who just might want to hear about my forthcoming tome? Or the facebook friend who remembered me from A-level English? Maybe she was ready to rediscover her love of reading? Was it any wonder that I got my 'likes' mixed up with my 'follows' - a very dangerous thing to do, apparently.

What happened next? Well, the novel was published in e-book format and gradually started to climb the Amazon charts. This was when a 'card' ceased to be simply something I bought for a birthday and became an acronym for Checking the Amazon Ratings Daily. Believe me, it can be very time-consuming.

On top of that, I had nothing to show my friends and family; no physical book (yet) with its carefully designed cover, no bookshop window to gaze in, no 'personal' gifts to post to my friends...Instead I had to carry on 'marketing' which, according to my publisher was the best thing a 'novice' novelist could do.

So, I got myself invited to some lovely book clubs, gave  talks here and there, featured on a few blogs, (yes-even got myself on the radio) did some more marketing and caught up with my reading.

Finally it was time to launch the paperback. What a wonderful moment that was. I could tell you all about it but I've still got some more marketing to do...And I'm sure there's something else on my list of New Year's resolutions.

Oh yes - I must remember to write.


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A salute to Capricornians - and A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama, Mel Gibson, Marlene Dietrich and Kate Moss - what have these well-known names got in common? They are all Capricorns, born between December 22 and January 19.

Which means they admire            
  • Reliability
  • Professionalism
  • Truthfulness            
  • Solid Foundations
  • A sense of Purpose
    • They DISLIKE             
    • Wild Schemes
    • Fantasies
    • Go-nowhere jobs
    • Ignominy
    • Ridicule

    And MOST OF THEM are as stubborn as an old goat!

    Yes,  all those well-known names, and a lot of ordinary people  (including me) were born under the sign of Capricorn.

    So how do you recognise a Capricorn? Some of their more obvious  traits include: being overwhelmed by their emotions and a tendency to become somewhat negative, gloomy and introvert. They are almost always  natural born worriers who will always predict and expect the worst.  They especially loathe criticism and  and sometimes find it difficult to maintain an objective view on things.  All of these a true of me, so thank goodness for the redeeming features:  they are kindhearted, mild, understanding and very forgiving.

    Meanwhile some famous people who were born on New Year's Eve include Anthony Hopkins, Sir Alex Ferguson, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Arden and - appropriately - Bonnie Prince Charlie!

    Wishing you ALL peace and much  happiness for 2015.



    Sunday, 21 December 2014


    Photo courtesy of

    Christmas Eve  brings a nativity-with-a difference to our UK television screens this year. 'On Angel Wings' an animated nativity story, is based on a book written by  the much-loved children's author Michael Morpurgo.

    'The story of  Christ's birth is the best story about Christmas ever written,' Michael tells the Daily Mail today, 'but because we all know it so well I think people shy away from seeing it again.'

    The cartoon took a year to make and features the voice of actor Michael Gambon as the shepherd boy Amos, who years later is recounting the story to his grandchildren.

    'The character is me in a way,' says the author. 'I often put myself into the fabric of a story as the narrator. I'm usually the grandfather telling the story to a young person and I've done that ever since I was young. Now I don't need to pretend to be old.'

    And this is how the story goes:

    'One cold Christmas night, a shepherd recounts the magical story of how he came to be the first visitor to the newborn Christ child – ahead of the other shepherds, and in complete secret.
    A deftly wrought re-working of the nativity story, Michael’s tale is rich in human detail. Quentin Blake’s watercolour illustrations ooze energy and atmosphere and perfectly complement this poignant story.'

    Meanwhile cheering news for book lovers comes from the UK chief executive of Harper Collins this Christmas.  Charlie Redmayne has slashed the number of celebrity memoirs he is buying to 'focus on fiction and children's books,' according to The Times newspaper this weekend.

    So here's to the children of the future and a  very HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL

    *On Angel Wings Christmas Eve 4.15 BBC 1