Writer and publisher of books for children

Monday, 24 November 2008


Internet marketing! Who knew it would be so involved and tricky! My website is up and running and I am using the analogy of a small shop in a tiny street half a mile from the High Street. How do I let people know that my shop exists and how do I entice them away from the High Street?

Having just about gotten over my fear of breaking the internet if I press a button on my keyboard, I have delved into the world of internet marketing wholeheartedly. I am signed up to countless newletters, mailing lists and clubs. I have read reams of paper about how to do pay-per-click, write articles, conduct an online interview, load up a video etc, etc, etc. I have some missive or other about every aspect of internet marketing. My problem now is how to put all the pieces together. And I was beginning to suffer from email overload so I have started a ruthless pruning exercise to get my inbox down to manageable proportions.

One of the most difficult things to do in the world of internet marketing is to write good copy. It is certainly a fine art but hopefully one I can master some day. Good practice, they say, makes perfect. I have tried to sound exciting without seeming hysterical and knowledgeable without being school-marmish. Not enough people have seen me frantically waving on the corner of my road though. Maybe the online equivalent of fishnet tights and a garter? Hmmm!

Monday, 29 September 2008


I know! It has been ages. I have been mega busy trying to get my website fully functional and having very limited success. In my next life I will come back as a webmaster who actually cares about my customers. I am bound to be successful! I am sure I am not the only person who has to rely on the 'professionals' to sort out websites only to find that as soon as money is handed over the enthusiastic, helpful and seemingly knowledgeable techie disappears for weeks on end and then can only allocate 2 minutes per day to your job.

While I have been waiting for some action in the website department, I have been working on an article on learning styles. I thought I would get down on paper all I knew about the subject and then look at what I had come up with. Now I have not had to do any fast typing for some time and I found that my fingers and forearms tired very quickly indeed. This was quite a surprise to me. My top speed back in the day was 83 wpm and I did not even think about how my fingers were feeling. I decided to give myself a three minute speed typing test. OK, so I have not had to type in earnest for a couple of years but really - 59 wpm!! I spent the next half hour furiously typing and timing myself. By the end of 15 minutes my speed had increased to 61 wpm but my forearms were aching. I realised I would have to practise hard to get those long underused muscles back in shape. I will not rest until I hit at least 70 wpm. Not that I need to - my current activity of writing very short stories for children does not require competition typing speeds - but it is a matter of pride.

This all made me think about how tiring it must be for little children trying to do things that requires fine motor skills, such as picking up small objects, colouring in pictures without going outside the outlines or indeed attempting to write letters and numbers for the first time. It all takes practice over time to develop the muscles and hand-eye co-ordination. As adults we take all this for granted but the little ones, trying to flex their muscles, need time to develop the strength and co-ordination to accomplish such tasks. Gentle, short and playful activities must be the way for them to get match fit and ready to tackle 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C!

Can't find the dumb-bells just now but I am drawing up a fitness programme for fingers that should do the trick.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


I have recently read an exchange of views on the vexed issue of age guidance (see http://www.thebookseller.com/age-guidance for some great comments). In true Libran fashion I have been see-sawing for a while but have finally decided that there must be lots of people out there who need a bit of a steer on such issues as what sort of material might be appreciated by their 11 year old computer mad niece or whether 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' would go down well with their two year old grandchild.

If someone knows the abilities and tastes of the person they are buying for, they will more than likely choose whatever they feel would be appreciated. However, not everyone is in that position and having to spend time reading the backs of lots of novels and flicking through the contents to assess its suitability might well result in the purchase of a mobile phone holder instead. If it makes it easier for books to find their way into more hands, I am all for it.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that my own books have age guidances stars on them!

Friday, 13 June 2008


I have been spending a lot of time in my garden lately. Last year my husband and I began a project to redesign and replant the whole area. We had a number of established shrubs and trees so I knew this meant very close supervision on my part. My other half is still learning 'gardenspeak' and has not quite mastered the translation. A while ago I found to my alarm that 'prune' in English translates to 'raze to the ground' in his gardenspeak. I discovered this when I asked my dearly beloved to prune an attractive but overgrown shrub that stood in our front garden. An hour later I came out to find...well, nothing! No shrub, just a wide open space! After that I learned to recognise the gleeful expression on his face whenever borders needed to be tidied. I now know the quivering of the shears in his hot little hands does not bode well for my lavatera or mahonia!

Anyway, last year we extended the patio and reshaped the main flower bed. This year we tackled the lawns - two interlocking tear shapes dreamed up by Beloved - and the path around them. The only fly in the ointment is the latest mistranslation in Beloved's garden vocabulary. 'Plant sensitively' = 'buy the entire stock of every garden centre within a five mile radius and plant haphazardly in one's own backyard'. We now have every variety of plant known to man shoehorned into every available space and the result is a riot of colour and a major war going on as the plants battle for light, air and often, soil. Beloved has been banned from all garden centres but has twice been caught sneaking down the side entrance with a couple of flowerpots concealed about his person.

We had a forest of trees at the bottom of the garden - an oak, a beech, two ashes, several straggly trees of dubious parentage and two very large leylandii. Last year we hired tree surgeon Kevan Watt (www.qualitytreecare.co.uk) to cut down and thin out the trees. Naturally Beloved had his hand up for the job and equally naturally I said 'NO!'

The first thing was dealing with the leylandii. They had to go because they were blocking out the other trees. The tree surgeons then removed the mongrel trees and carefully pruned the others. Beloved and I sat on the patio with cups of tea and a plate of Danish pastry to watch the performance. And it really was like a performance. Carefully chosen boughs were chain-sawed, lowered to the ground, hauled off to the front of the house and put through a grinder. The speed, precision and elegance of the whole operation was amazing. In no time we were left with four beautifully shaped trees and a garden cleared and cleaned to a standard it had never seen before, certainly not since we took over ownership. I love watching people who know what they are doing, doing what they know and those guys really, really knew what they were doing.

The next phase comes next year when we have to do something about the area under the trees and that includes a semi-submerged air raid shelter and a family of foxes that might not take kindly to getting their eviction notice. The area needs to be completely cleared so maybe they will decamp at the first sight of Beloved happily indulging his craving for hacking down everything within his reach.


Saturday, 24 May 2008


Reading the newspaper again, I saw an article about children who were poor readers at the age of 6 becoming the best in their class after being given one-to-one tuition. It only took 30 hours over a 12 week period to bring the children's reading abilities up to that of their classmates and after a further two years, the former poor readers had overtaken them. Way to go! The programme is called Every Child a Reader and is backed by the government. Teachers operating the scheme use Reading Recovery techniques to help those children who have been identified as weak readers.

Imagine what might have become of these children if this intervention had not taken place. There obviously was not much wrong with the kids themselves. They may only have needed help to overcome particular learning blocks and after one-on-one time with the teachers they were able to perform very well.

And it is this same principle that underpins the Cayac Pre-School Learning System. The books are designed so that an adult can sit with a child and guide and encourage him or her through the learning activity. And of course that means ample opportunity for the adult to discuss the pictures with the child, encourage questions about the actions, compare things in the pictures with things in the child's environment and so on to encourage speech development.

Many of the educational books on the market aimed at young children dedicate perhaps 2, 3 or 4 pages to a particular learning activity. If a child has not mastered the skill by the end of the third or fourth page, they have no further opportunity to practise and that bit of knowledge remains incomplete. The Cayac Pre-School books provide 15 or more pages on a particular learning activity to help children of differing abilities get to grips with and understand new concepts and practise the skills being taught.

Even if a child does not need all the pages to learn the targetted skill, he or she may simply enjoy the activity and want to continue copying the shapes and colouring the pictures. I know older children who like to work through the books in quiet moments just for the fun of doing something well within their abilities.

I am all for anything that will help to ensure children get the chance to fulfill their potential. The plan is to roll this programme out across the country. This scheme could well be the key that will open the door to a brighter future for lots of kids.


Wednesday, 21 May 2008


In her recent report Ofsted Chief Christine Gilbert said that 20% of pupils leave their primary schools without a solid foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic. That's 1 in 5 children! Such a sad statistic and it masks the hardship and deprivation those children must face in a modern world where knowledge is king. I can't imagine not immersing myself in a book, newspaper, magazine or the back of a cereal box on a daily basis. I can't survive without reading something!

Reading the report reinforced for me the necessity of making sure pre-school children are exposed to the skills and concepts they need to be able to learn to read, write and manipulate numbers when they begin primary school. That's the idea behind the Cayac Pre-school Series. If children could arrive at their Reception class already aware at least of what letters and numbers look like and some idea of what they do, how much easier their lives would be. I am sure all parents want to give their children a positive start to their education and if the emotion underpinning their learning is joy, excitement and curiosity, their progress is likely to be a lot smoother than if they are anxious and confused.

Cayac supports family learning and as their first teachers, mums and dads (and in many cases, grandparents and siblings) are best placed to give the little ones a helping hand. With good material and a few hints and tips, this should be a process enjoyed by all. Wouldn't it be great if we could all do something towards erasing that sad statistic and help drive an upturn in child literacy and numeracy?


Sunday, 18 May 2008


I am back after a rather long leave of absence. 2008 is a 'could do better' year.

I have been writing poetry for kids as a wind-down exercise to calm my nerves after a day of trying to get to grips with the new accounting package. I had a stab at it in the first of my pre-school activity books - 'Can you help us please?'.

'It is time to go to sleep now.
I am tired as can be.
Can you come back soon please
To play with me?'

I enjoyed those simple rhymes so much I thought I would take the next step, i.e. writing more than 4 lines per poem!!

I remember being awarded a book of poems in primary school as a prize for being the best at Nature Studies*?!# I loved that book. I still recall a couple of lines from one poem - something like 'It was the rainbow gave thee birth, and gave thee all her glorious hues.....' I have no idea what the poem was called but the imagery fascinated me and really made me think about the power of words to paint a picture.

My efforts are nothing like as romantic. Struggling for half an hour to find a word that rhymes with 'mud' is no fun at all. I bet Raold Dahl didn't have that problem.

I have been immersing myself in the business end of publishing. I have a brilliant new (human) printer who is absolutely meticulous about the work that leaves his workshop, which is great with me. I have a website designer who hopes to get the site up by the end of the month. I am on every internet marketing gurus mailing list and I have to say, although this is all fairly new to me, I find it absolutely fascinating. Tracy Repchuk, the Marketing Makeover Maestro wrote a book called 31 Days to Millionaire Marketing Miracles which gives a step by step guide to making money on the internet. Brilliant stuff and really clarifies a lot of the mysteries of the internet.

Must get back to the poetry though. 'Mud' will stick in my mind until I get that rhyme sorted out! Bud, cud, dud......


Saturday, 19 January 2008


After all the mayhem of getting ready for Christmas, getting through Christmas and entering the New Year, January's such a downer. A seriously depleted bank account, dreary weather and several extra pounds to carry around, it always takes a huge effort to be optimistic about the coming months. Still, my pot of daffodils has started to bloom and that reminded me that spring is just around the corner and actually there are lots of great things to look forward to.

For one, I now have half my consignment of books with the rest to come in a couple of days. I have drawn up this huge chart of who I am going to approach and when. Just have to get up the courage to knock on that first door.

Writing is such an exposing thing. Everything in the books came out of my head and the hope is that children will like them and enjoy using them.

The books are aimed at parents of pre-school children who are looking for something to help their children prepare for entry into primary school. I have designed the books so that children with a range of abilities can find enough material to practice their skills and have a lot of fun at the same time. The idea is that the children will view using the books as a game - children learn so much better and faster when they are playing.

I worked in a pre-school, held on Saturdays, for 17 years and the one thing that struck me is how widely children of the same age differ in ability and development. One 4 year old would be able to follow a dotted line very accurately and draw, paint and use a pair of scissors well and another of the same age would struggle to hold a crayon properly. When I looked for books that would give all the children enough scope to practice a particular skill, I found that most books for pre-schoolers provided a couple of pages on following dotted lines, a couple of pages on matching shapes, a couple of pages on colours. This was fine for those who had arrived at the stage where their hand-eye co-ordination was fairly well developed and they were beginning to understand shapes, forms etc. However, those who were still on their journey to that point were left high and dry needing a little more practice than was offered, just at the point at which they were beginning to understand what they had to do.

That was when I began designing the learning material myself, gearing the work to address each child's specific needs. Hard work but hugely enjoyable.

When it came to writing and illustrating my books, I made sure there was enough scope for children of differing abilities to practice the targeted skill. A story runs through each book to make the learning process more interesting. I chose five characters - a bee called Boo, a spider called Seb, a kitten called Kubby, a mouse called Muti and a ladybird called Loki - to accompany the children through the books to help keep them interested and engaged. Hopefully this will also make it interesting for the parents who have to guide their preschoolers through the books!

Chin up! Spring's coming!