Why Ninjas Look After Their Sisters

I had another great afternoon at St. James COE Primary School last week. We talked about a crucial element of stories: goals and obstacles.

A cool thing about stories is that big, cosmic goals can often hinge on small actions. “A few friends have to destroy some jewelry” doesn’t sound like the plot of an epic — but if that jewelry happens to be Sauron’s One Ring, you’ve got the plot of Lord of the Rings.

The kids came up with some huge overarching goals, like “Become a ninja” or “Save the world.”  They came up with some much more modest goals, like “Look after your sister” or “Pack lunch for work.” Then we brainstormed ways the huge goals could hinge on the little ones:

Ninjas must protect the innocent. Looking after your sister could be the first step in learning to do so.

If you don’t pack lunch, you’ll be hungry at work and not be up to doing your job. And if your job is to be a superhero, your rumbling stomach might distract you from saving the world.

Goals sorted, we talked about what obstacles might pop up, and how we’d deal with them:

If you tried to pack lunch but your cupboard was nailed shut, what would you do?

Look in the fridge!

What if the fridge had frozen shut?

Melt it with your heat-vision!

What if the melting ice flooded your flat?

By the time we were done, we had created some truly epic stories. JRR Tolkein, look out!

The City of Secret Rivers — Now In Paperback!

The City of Secret Rivers is now available in paperback!

At least, it’s available in the UK. In America, the book is called Hyacinth And The Secrets Beneath, and it won’t come out in paperback until April 24. Sorry, America. Guess that whole throwing-off-the-yoke-of-King-George thing doesn’t seem like such a good idea now, does it?



The Kind And Horrible Butterfly

This term, I’m Patron of Reading for St. James Church of England Primary School. So far, I’ve done two workshops with the kids, and I’ve been having a blast.

Yesterday’s workshop was on characters. The kids came up with a bunch of Inside Traits (kindness, bravery) and Outside Traits (wearing a blue dress, having two tails.) Then we combined them and made up stories about the resulting characters.

Blackstone is an ancient soldier who has been inside a cave for hundreds of years. He uses his sword to protect the innocent.



When people are trapped in holes, Helpful Snake wraps his body around them and lifts them to safety. (Below him is Josh, who has a secret and likes to dab. His secret is that he’s not as cool as dabbing makes him look.)



Sometimes characters are complex and contradictory.  For example, we made up a butterfly who is both kind and horrible. I asked the class if they knew anybody who was both those things, and two different kids both said “My brother!” So we decided that Butter Fly had to be the brother of one of our other characters.




More Reviews

Thank you to The Irish Times, which called me a “vivid and original voice”, and to The Guardian, which called The City of Secret Rivers “a harum-scarum ride through London’s sewer-land” and an “excellent thriller.”


Free stuff for librarians and teachers

If you’re a librarian or teacher, you can win one of 22 copies of Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath.

Plus, Curious City has created a game based on the book, perfect for story times at libraries and bookstores. It turns out that your bookshelves are actually magical sewers in disguise, just waiting for a group of kids brave enough to face their enchanted dangers. Download the complete event kit for free at Curious City’s website.



There’s nothing more terrifying for an author than being reviewed (except possibly being reviewed by a shark while parachuting out of an exploding airplane.) Fortunately, Hyacinth And The Secrets Beneath has gotten some great and entirely shark-free reviews.

Kirkus says it’s “a rollicking adventure with a lulu of an ending that comes with the promise of a sequel. Middle graders will adore clever Hyacinth and enjoy the other humorous characters, the puns (Oaroboarus, indeed), and the suspenseful narrative.”

School Library Journal says “With plot twists and potty humor galore, this is an entertaining read-aloud that should keep even reluctant readers engaged. VERDICT: Fans of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Underland Chronicles’ and Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams’s ‘Tunnels’ series will enjoy this fantastic, funny adventure.”

Booklist says “It’s a wild ride that’s fun, freaky, outlandish, and suspenseful. Readers will beg for another installment.”

Thank you Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist!