Tuesday, 20 January 2009


Every Christmas I feel as if I've struggled to the top of an unforgiving hill on my bike and I'm about to start freewheeling down the other side. I go to the US Navy website (See Links on right) and I download sunrise and sunset tables for the year so that I can cheer myself up by seeing how much lighter it's going to be day by day. It happens slowly at first - hardly any change until the beginning of January, but then an extra minute morning and evening, and by the middle of February five whole minutes every day! No matter how grey and dismal the weather becomes in January and February I can reassure myself that Spring really is on the way.
The landscape remains stubbornly monochrome, and even the green on the fields of winter wheat and barley is only a greenish tinge on the brown, but under the apple trees the spikes of daffodils and bluebells are poking through the grass.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Shank's Pony

I've always found my best ideas while walking or riding my bike, and yet I've never really felt comfortable about going for a long walk on a day when I'm meant to be writing. It just doesn't feel like work, even though I know I get more done in an hour sitting on my bike or tramping around the edges of ploughed fields than I do in five hours sitting in front of the computer screen. I'm experimenting this year, and it seems to be true that the more I walk the better I write. It may just be coincidence, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Some years ago I was given this wonderful book by Morris Marples which introduced me to, among others, 'the Odcombian Leg-stretcher' Thomas Coryate who in 1608 walked from Somerset to Venice and back. And walking twenty miles and back to visit a friend meant nothing to Wordsworth and Coleridge! Get hold of the book if you can - it's a great read.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Green Fingers

I heard last week that there's to be a Japanese edition of this book. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it, and curious to know if they'll make the setting Japanese. For the UK edition Sian Bailey made very beautiful black and white drawings of plants and of some places very close to where I live. The Winter picture shows a farmhouse in a place called Bulls Green.

I see that OUP are producing a new reading scheme targeting boys. It's called Project X. Getting boys to read is the Holy Grail of children's publishing - or one of them, if you can have more than one. Just imagine all those boys rushing to bookshops to spend their pocket money on books. My first book was about football. Publishers believed that football stories would engage boys, but one perceptive reviewer pointed out that boys who played football were too busy playing to read about it, and boys who didn't play weren't interested. There are plenty of exceptions to this, but there's also a good deal of truth in it, and I guess that's why I didn't achieve overnight fame!

The OUP scheme plans to draw in boys partly by using digital illustration to simulate the world of computer games. I can't help thinking that boys who play computer games will be too busy playing to read books that look like games but don't actually move, and boys who don't...

So, what's my solution to the problem of boys' reading? First of all, don't even start to teach children, especially boys, to read until they're at least 7 years old. In the meantime, tell them loads of stories and read to them. But there's no point going on, is there? Because our entire state education system assumes we start teaching children to read when they're 4.