Sunday, 8 December 2013

By popular request a festive message from Billie the dog!

Happy Christmas Season to visitors of my blog.

Every year I get childishly excited by the sparkle of Christmas. Today has launched me into the festive spirit. I ran with thousands of other Santas through Victoria Park In London. What must a small child waking up this morning have thought at the sight? 

The tree is up and Billie is experiencing his very first Christmas! He was born on Christmas eve so he is very much looking forward to his first birthday!

Snuggling on the sofa with a bit of tinsel! What more could a dog want!

Happy Christmas,

With festive love,

From Billie and Sita X

Monday, 2 December 2013

What books made you?

I was asked by MyKindaBook (the great interactive site hosting articles, features and information about all Macmillan Children's Books authors) to write a piece about a book I read as a teen that had a huge impact on me. You can win a copy of my latest book 'Kite Spirit' as well as a copy of Hardy's classic 'Tess' if you write in with your own 'book that made you.' Click on the MyKindaBook link below to read more...

Saturday, 16 November 2013

'Kite Spirit' Long-Listed for The UKLA 2014 Book Award

Why I'm so delighted that 'Kite Spirit' has been long-listed for the UKLA award.

 Before writing novels for young people, I spent a great deal of my life in schools working with teachers to create arts Education projects with young people. The emphasis on creativity and self-fulfilment in 'Kite Spirit' reflects some of this work. The book also focuses on the important role of teachers and those who work in pastoral care in schools,  in helping young people through what can be some very great challenges.

Our teenage years are the the most intense of our lives. The proliferation of social media has added new pressures that can have a devastating affect on teenagers sense of self. Like the character of Dawn in 'Kite Spirit,' the failure for young people to speak when the pressures they face (whatever these may be) become overwhelming can and does lead to truly tragic ends. When I visit schools to talk about 'Kite Spirit' I hold writing workshops with young people to encourage them to explore the themes of the book . This A - Z in response to the question...

'What does the world expect you to be?' reveals how deeply young people feel the pressures of life and respond to themes of flying and falling in 'Kite Spirit'.

As Alessandra Marsoni (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, working for the Tavistock and Portman Foundation NHS Trust) commented  after reading 'Kite Spirit':
'There is something very evocative in imagining the power of the kite, its spirit: there is a good spirit, when the kite flies confidently through the sky, its direction clearly determined by the wind. There can also be a bad spirit;  the kite soars frantically through the sky, all direction lost.  We all have both spirits in ourselves, one, to use Wordsworth’s words,  “enables us to mount...and lifts us when fallen”, the other one brings us down with a “deadly weight”.

Young people, beginning to grapple with life and its complexities, are particularly prone to experiencing both states of mind. The fall can be so overwhelming as to obliterate the idea of a recovery, the kite ever flying again; or it can be seen as a painful stage which can be overcome. Through the story of Kite and Dawn, Sita Brahmachari vividly illustrates these two possibilities: Dawn experienced Wordsworth’s “deadly weight” so powerfully,  she felt so alone with it, unable to speak, that death appeared like the only solution. By contrast, Kite, is able, thank to the support of her family and her friends, to go through the turmoil, the fall, but also to come out of it. Young people, like Kite and Dawn, have a lot to contend with, internally and externally (pressure of exams, university, finding a job...). The capacity to seek help, that of friends and family in the first instance but , at times, also professional help, is vital. As Sita writes in her initial note to the reader, “no matter how hard the fall there is always someone who can have the courage to speak”.
Alessandra Marsoni : Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, working for the Tavistock and Portman Foundation NHS Trust.

That the UKLA  recognise that 'Kite Spirit' can  help to explore this sensitive subject, is a great affirmation of what I set out to do when I wrote 'Kite Spirit'.    

A 'Kite Spirit' gallery ( which will house student writing) is being created as part of a  Pop Up Festival 2014 commission which ends its tour in London's Central St Martin's School of Arts and Design, Kings X:  on 12th and 13th July 2014

To sign up for information about this interactive three venue Literary festival featuring 'Kite Spirit'  and  commissions by many other writers... follow this link:

Monday, 14 October 2013

Turning Leaves....

As I definitely felt Autumn on my morning walk, I was reminded that I haven't yet done a seasonal  update of bookish news.

New commissions
I am delighted to be working on the following new commissions to be published in 2014:

'Red Leaves' for Macmillan Children's Books
Edited by Venetia Gosling

'Red Leaves' is very much  as its title suggests, an Autumnal tale. The leaves are well and truly on the turn, a collection of conkers sits on my desk and it's almost time for the clocks to go back, to carve the pumpkin and begin the festivals of light and imagination...and walking in Queen's Wood is helping to fan those flames! 
'Brace Mouth, False Teeth' for Barrington Stoke
Edited by Ruth Williams
As you can probably tell from the tongue twister title '  - say it fast and you might end up showering someone with spittle! -  it's a quirky tale featuring teeth belonging to the young and old! 

Newly released on October 28th...
Audio CD's of 'Kite Spirit' read by Juliet Stevenson
The audio book for 'Kite Spirit' has been recorded for AudioGo. It is available from 28th October. I am truly honoured that the wonderful actress Juliet Stevenson is reading my book which can be purchased through the following link.
She has also done the voice over for a short film of 'Kite Spirit' to be part of a walk in installation for the Pop Up Festival. Here is a film from Pop Up illustrating their excellent work with authors and young readers. The film includes a collaboration I was involved in with Keats House and Elizabeth Gareth Anderson School and Kite Spirit. Students poems and contributions will feature in the installation.

Edinburgh Festival
It was a real privilege to be invited to the Edinburgh Festival to talk on two panel discussions. The first with Tanya Byrne and Keith Gray about the boundaries in YA fiction at the Baillie Gifford Theatre, chaired by Janet Smyth  and the second with Cat Clarke and Julia Eccleshare as part of the schools programme.  It was very moving to hear the young people's passionate responses to themes of teenage pressure in 'Undone' by Cat Clarke and ' Kite Spirit' which Julia also commented on in 'Women's Hour.'

Here with Cat Clarke ( left) and Julia Eccleshare (Right)

Reading Mentor  at Fortismere school, London for the 'Patron of Reading' Scheme.
I met the lovely Librarian at Fortismere School in North London, Gill Ward at the beginning of the summer to talk through her invitation for me to become the school's 'Patron of Reading' . This is to include a special engagement with the Library, students and English Department. I will be holding talks, workshops and sharing insights into the writing process of each of my novels to support the school's reading programmes.

It was a delight to attend the Year 7 poetry festival last week where brave young writers performed their own amazing poems.  What a talented group of young writers. Pat Print in 'Artichoke Hearts' would have jumped for joy to have the honour of working with such inspirational young authors!

' Artichoke Hearts' or ' Mira In the Present Tense' - ' Jasmine Skies' and 'Kite Spirit'

'Artichoke Hearts' or ' Mira In The Present Tense'
US Publication
In September 'Artichoke Hearts' was  published under the name of 'Mira In The Present Tense' by ' Albert Whitman. It also sports a lovely new cover for the American market.

Issue: September 1, 2013
Mira in the Present Tense.Brahmachari, Sita (Author)
Sep 2013. 336 p. Albert Whitman, hardcover, $16.99. (9780807551493).
Originally published in the UK as Artichoke Hearts, this book tells the story of Mira Levenson, half Jewish
and half Indian, who is trying to make sense of her changing life. 

This is a gentle coming-of-age story built around a heartbreaking event. Mira, a compelling
narrator with an artist’s eye for detail, benefits from a lifetime surrounded by people who love her. Her
story resonates with truth (despite the secrets) and joy (despite the sorrow.)

— Kara Dean

Originally published as Artichoke Hearts in the U.K., where it won the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Award in 2011, Brahmachari’s debut novel is worth the heartache it provokes. Readers will enjoy watching Mira gather strength through writing in her diary and confronting her fears. While the story deals with the heaviness and “necessary heartbreak” of losing a close relative, Mira’s energetic voice reminds readers that inspiration and hope can be found in the everyday. Ages 9–13. (Sept.)
Reviewed on 08/02/2013 | 
Details & Permalink <>  

British author Sita Brahmachari‘s debut novel (titled Artichoke Hearts on the other side of the Pond, and winner of Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize in 2011) is an emotionally charged, deeply resonating journey of a hapa Jewish Indian British girl coming-of-age in the midst of saying goodbye to one of the most important adults in her life. Brahmachari’s story is symphonic in scope, effortlessly melding elements as surprising as beatniks, Frida Kahlo, Margaret Thatcher, ethnic pride, hospice care, foundlings puppies named Moses, and so much more

'Jasmine Skies'
While at the Edinburgh Festival my lovely agent Sophie Gorell Barnes called me with the wonderful news that my second novel' Jasmine Skies' is also to be published by Albert Whitman.

I was also so happy to hear that 'Jasmine Skies' has been shortlisted  for the Coventry Book Awards (Voted for by readers)  in the ' Read It or Else Category!' Love the category title!!!

'Jasmine Skies' has been selected by The Book Trust  on a School Librarian's list for Reading Groups as a 'Future Classic.'

'Kite Spirit' Reviewed by Books For Keeps Review by Geoff Fox
I loved this sensitive review by Geoff Fox. It seems to reflect all I set out to do when I wrote ' Kite Spirit'

Kite’s best friend Dawn takes her own life on the morning of their GCSE Geography paper. Not because she was anxious about the exam – she was an A* student. Things are more complicated than that. Kite and Dawn had been best friends since they met in the playground of their London nursery school. Kite is the daughter of singer-songwriter Seth from Sheffield and flamboyant choreographer Ruby, whose family still lives in St Kitts. Her parents let Kite ‘choose her own name’ when, as a baby, she had ‘kicked my legs cos I saw a kite flying’. She has lived up to her name ever since, as a runner, a gymnast training with Circus Space, a flyer in every way. Dawn’s parents are more conventional and she had been more tentative, less self-assured; she found her way of flying through playing her oboe – and here she had seemed to have a brilliant future.
Kite’s journey from that morning of Dawn’s suicide is both spiritual and psychological, made possible through a literal journey she takes with Seth to the Lake District. He’s there to write music, but also to search for his own roots, since his mother was adopted in that area after the war and never knew her parents. As Seth discovers strands of his identity, Kite sees more clearly the security and open warmth of her own extended Caribbean family. Kite meets several people in the Lakes; each one in some way helps her understand the emotional numbness into which she has fallen. Finally Garth, a boy of her own age, enables her to release the dam which has prevented her grieving, to find a way of letting Dawn go without losing her. His care for her is intuitive and gentle – through actions rather than words.
There are other, more mystical strands, anticipated in lines from The Prelude which precede the narrative. Owls intervene in the story almost as messengers, their presence releasing moments of insight. The landscape and even one luxurious modern cantilevered house (planning permission, in a National Park?) also work upon Kite’s mind which, as the weeks pass, becomes in Wordsworth’s words, ‘nourished and invisibly repaired’.
The final page of Kite Spirit lists the contact details for MindThe SamaritansChildline and Young Minds; that’s consistent with the author’s caring, compassionate impulse evident in the plot but also the manner of its telling. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Scotsman Review

I was delighted to receive this review from Jane E Sandell, The Children's Editor of The Scotsman. As we approach the summer holidays with so many books to choose from it's a real honour to be included in the 'Summer's Best Reads' list. This is what she says about 'Kite Spirit'

'Grounded firmly in the real world is Kite Spirit (Macmillan, £6.99) by Sita Brahmachari. Kite’s life is shattered when her best friend, Dawn, commits suicide. Stunned by grief, and overcome by feelings of guilt, Kite struggles to continue with the everyday routines of her life. When her Dad’s work takes him to the Lake District for the summer, Kite goes with him and there she finds a way to live her life without Dawn. Sita Brahmachari captures the maelstrom of shock, disbelief, anger and pain that is grief without sliding off 
into either hysteria or sentimentality in this difficult, but rewarding, book.'

If you're looking for summer reads for children of all ages, have a look at this lovely list ranging from picture books to YA literature.

Kite Spirit in one window of Children's Bookshop Muswell Hill and Judith Kerr in the other. What an honour!

Kite Spirit flies high

• 11 June 2013
Crowds gathered at the Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill in the afternoon sunshine to meet Sita Brahmachari, whose latest book KITE SPIRIT was launched in splendid fashion with the unveiling of a hand-made kite created by Sarah Owen.
And it was quite a gathering, lots of children patiently waiting in line to have their book signed and lots of Muswell Hillbillies - friends, poets, actors, musicians with a myriad creative links to each other, and often also with links via their own children, many of whom attend Rhodes Avenue Primary School. Among them was Liliana Newsam-Smith, 11, winner of the Amnesty International Young Writers Award.

Brahmachari, the daughter of an Indian doctor and an English nurse, expressed her delight at the "honour" of being granted a window opposite Judith Kerr, and thanked Kate Agnew, whose family owns the Bookshop, for her support, noting the formative role it had played in the development of so many readers. Brahmachari made her debut with Artichoke Hearts, which won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize in 2011. Kite Spirit (Macmillan) is her third novel, and tells the story of Kite, born to hippy parents and named only on her first birthday, and the recipient of a special kite each year from her mother Ruby.

To mark publication, Owen - who with husband Simon runs Owen's, a much-loved local deli – made Kite's 16th-birthday kite, its colours chosen to reflect those of the Lake District, where Brahmachari grew up and which provides the backdrop to the novel. On each of the bows that form the kite's tail, Owen had embroidered a birthday message.

Adding to the party spirit at the launch was music by Ruth Bolister, who plays First Oboe with English National Opera - in the novel, Kite's friend Dawn wants only to play the instrument. Among those who turned out to launch Kite Spirit on its journey were Cicely Herbert, one of the Barrow Poets, as well as Brahmachari's agent Sophie Gorell Barnes and Diana Tyler, her colleague from MBA.

Photos, from top: Sita Brahmachari (centre) with Sarah Owens (left) and Ruth Bolister;  Brahmachari with (from left) Lily Armah (who plays Kite in a book trailer and short film being made for th Pop Up Festival exhibition), Kate Agnew, Lily Newsam-Smith and Ruth Bolister. Sarah Owen's kite can be seen behind them.
Featured in Book Brunch.

'Kite Spirit' Reviews Update

'An outstandingly beautiful story about a girl coping with her friend’s death. 'Sita Brahmachari’s haunting novel set amidst the rugged beauty of the Lake District promises to be one of 2013’s most powerful and emotionally charged stories in the burgeoning young adult market.Perfectly pitched and written with the utmost sensitivity and truly uplifting charm, this is a book to read and treasure, to gain wisdom and understanding, and to comfort and console. Kite Spirit is a masterclass in wise and sympathetic storytelling and a superbly constructed lesson in the joys of friendship, the human heart’s ability to heal itself and the importance of acceptance and renewal. A moving and unmissable treat for both teens and adults

'Kite Spirit' book event at Children's Bookshop Muswell Hill

'Brahmachari writes with an incredible grace. She is very, very good at getting to the truth inside her work, be that the emotional heartache of Mira or the near-incomprehensible pain of Kite in Kite Spirit. Reading a book by Brahmachari is a very precious thing indeed. And Kite Spirit is a more than fitting tribute to one of the best writers to emerge on the scene in recent years. It's a book that is packed full of truth, sadness and a very quiet humanity.'
Quote from LH Johnson on  Good Reads

The Kite Spirit kite reflected in the shop window

Review by Georgia on World Book Day Reviews
I absolutely loved Kite Spirit! It was emotional, heartbreaking and truthful  and I couldn’t stop reading it. The plot was really great, and beautifully written. I loved the main backdrop for the book, the Lake District- I really enjoyed the authors vivid descriptions. There was a tie-in with the afterlife while Kite was in the Lake District, a little, with the Owls (I won’t explain anymore, because I might drop some spoilers!), and I really liked reading about that and how it drew Kite closer to Garth and his grandmother.
I really loved the character of Kite- Sita Brahmachari has managed to convey so much of her emotions, through a third-person narrative. I really understood Kite, and loved her unique personality so much. She was a really strong protagonist, overall. Her ending to the story was just perfect! It really showed how Kite had changed after the events of the book and that she had said goodbye to Dawn.
I liked how Kite and Dawn’s relationship with each other in the past was clearly illustrated for the reader with frequent flashbacks, and memories. The really showed me what Dawn was like, and gave me clues as to why Dawn might have committed suicide. Dawn’s situation pre-death was very understandable, and the outcome very shocking.
Overall, Kite Spirit was totally amazing, and flawless, in my opinion. It brought tears to my eyes multiple times, but that just shows what an emotional ride this book was. The characters were three-dimensional and realistic, and the setting was really great. I think this book was a great introduction for me to Sita Brahmachari’s award-winning writing- I can’t wait to soon read Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies, and any more from Sita in the future!
Read more reviews by Georgia at and follow her on Twitter@GeeGeeWalters
Sita with Cicely Herbert (Barrow Poet and Poems on the Underground)

Kite Spirit was raw and beautiful, a truly haunting yet uplifting story. Kite’s grief radiated off the page and swirled in the air around me, much like Dawn’s presence did for Kite. 

With the rolling hills of the Lake District as the backdrop of this story, it really set the scene for Kite and her bleak mood. But as anyone who knows this area, when the sun breaks through, it is outstanding. 

Kite and Dawn’s history is cleverly revisited by the author in well timed flashbacks. We get a glimpse of the girl Dawn was, and also of the girl Kite was around her. Though totally different and from totally different methods of upbringing, the girls were inseparable. Kite wanted to swing in the circus, Dawn to play her oboe. Through these flashbacks we also begin to understand why Dawn may have taken her own life. 

It was at times hard to read, the story is very raw. But it was a pleasure to watch as Kite overcame her grief, and learned how to say goodbye and let go of Dawn and look into the future of her own life.

The other intriguing part of this book was Kite’s dad’s back story. As Kite is trying to imagine her future, her dad is trying to discover his past. A very well done secondary plot line.

I am sure first time readers of this author will be racing out to get her other books. 
By Teeny104 book reviewer.

'Kite Spirit' in the shop window of Halesworth Bookshop in Suffolk

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Kite Tale

I have to share with you the work of a great friend of mine Sarah Owen. She and her husband Simon and family have set  up a much treasured foodstore and delicatessen called Owen's close to where I live. It's a hub for the community and a place where, in the words of one customer... 'We go for fantastic food, warm welcomes and thoughtful conversation.' Before that Sarah worked in our local primary school and her displays and costumes for school shows were so extraordinary, imaginative and beautifully crafted that they could have easily graced any window display or exhibition. Sarah is much loved by many of the children and young people in the area who she has known and nurtured with her sunny smile and 'I've-always got time-for-you- manner.'

Before I started writing novels for young people my work was in Community Theatre and I see Sarah's world and mine as being very much linked. While she expresses herself through creating wonderful visual worlds, including her shop, I imagine worlds through words intended to be read by young people. Over the last couple of years we have very naturally come together to share these passions and last year Owen's was transported into a Kolkata Deli with the local launch of 'Jasmine Skies!'

Sarah with her pottery cow head and window display for 'Jasmine Skies' 
Sarah is an inspired artist, crafts person and maker. Like my sculptor character Garth in 'Kite Spirit' she creates work because it brings her pleasure. She is hesitant to display her creations despite many people begging her to open Owen's one evening as a Sarah Owen exhibition space. When I wrote 'Jasmine Skies'  Sarah popped around with a kingfisher  she'd made out of recycled materials which was the symbol of that book. 'Just something I put together from some bits of material!' she said!

It has now been seen and admired by thousands of young readers and is one of my treasured possessions.
In 'Kite Spirit' I describe the little centre in forget me not flowers as 'modest yellow suns'....the description seems to fit Sarah too.

Now with ' Kite Spirit' she has sewn the sixteenth birthday kite that Ruby, Kite's mother makes and presents to her daughter on that rites of passage day.

Sewn from silks to reflect  the colours of the lake District where the book is set... moss greens, heather and slate greys.
Our Kite Tale began when I gave the description below to Sarah. Then we went together with my youngest daughter Esha to Berwick street to choose the colours. Esha made her illustrating debut in 'Jasmine Skies' with her monkey drawing and draws and paints constantly. She brought a keen eye for choosing the colours of the kite, rejecting certain hues as too bright or simply 'wrong'.  It occurred to me as we placed  reams of silks side by side to find the palate of the Kite, that this process of laying  tones down and stitching words, ideas and symbols together is very similar to the process of writing. 'Kite Spirit' is populated by a diverse range of artists;  there are musicians, songwriters, dancers, circus artists, sculptors and architects. Through different mediums each character has the potential to find a voice and express their way of seeing the world. Sarah's Kite has become not only the kite that I imagined when I wrote this story, but also a wonderful birthday gift to launch 'Kite Spirit.'

'In front of her was a kite unlike any of the others in her collection.She ran her fingers over what looked like a patchwork of tiny rectangular pieces of parachute silk. Written into each coloured panel in gold and silver were birthday wishes from people from all parts of her life, here and in St Kitts...

 'Happy Birthday my beauty,' read the message from Grandma Grace.
'Go Crazy girl!' her cousin Jai wrote in his so-laid-back-it-was- almost lying down spidery handwriting.
On one triangle was written: 'To our wonderful daughter, our 'Kite Spirit' on your 16th birthday love Ruby and Seth xx'

Ruby held her tight as she read her own message and for a moment Kite closed her eyes and allowed herself to be comforted.
'There are loads more messages' Ruby encouraged her, and for her mothers' sake only Kite opened her eyes and read on.'
'You turn my world!' love Mali xxx'

Each message is lovingly hand sewn into the silks

'We have an appointment on the cloud swing! Love Annalisa x

From the chapter ' Bitter Sixteenth'  in ' Kite Spirit'

I am delighted that Sarah's Kite is to be unveiled for the first time in the wonderful Muswell Hill Children's Book Shop.

It is then planned to fly to 'Fringe' our beautiful sewing and knitting store.

In September Sarah's Kite will be exhibited in Central St Martin's School of Art and Design as part of a 'Kite Spirit' exhibition including a short film made by local film maker Shaun Cobley in which actress Juliet Stevenson reads excerpts from 'Kite Spirit'. The young local actress and dancer Lily Armah plays the character of Kite. The Pop Up Festival is a free Literary Festival featuring the work of many writers and illustrators and a fitting place, bringing together arts and community to fly the 'Kite Spirit'. London September 14/ 15.

Here is the 'Kite Spirit' book trailer on Macmillan Children's Books MyKindaBook website

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

'Kite Spirit's birthday and spooky happenings.

Today is 'Kite Spirit's' official publication birthday.

At Macmillan Children's books I am getting a reputation of slightly spooky happenings surrounding the publication of my books. The pre-publication tour for 'Kite Spirit' has definitely cemented that reputation!

Here's an excerpt from 'Kite Spirit' that strikes a chord!

'Do you believe in 'presences' and that sort of thing?' Kite asked.

Garth paused a moment before he spoke. 'Can't say for sure, but what I will say is there are certain spots that give you a feeling of something else, something beyond what we can see.'

For me the Lake District where the majority of 'Kite Spirit' is set is a place full of 'presences' that seem to stir just under the surface of slate and stone.

In an earlier blog I shared some photos that inspired me in the research journey to writing 'Kite Spirit'. It's always an odd feeling going back to the old haunts. It's as if you are walking inside the pages of your book. As I spend many hours walking these paths in my mind perhaps it's not surprising that I should have seen symbols everywhere on my return visit last week! In all three of my books the spirit world and the real world sit side by side, living parallel existences. You could easily explain the siting of spirits, ghosts or, as Mira would say,
'Notsurewho Notsurewhat!' in my books as  projections of the character's state of mind... on the other hand there may be other less logical explanations...

The first images Catherine Alport (Publicist) and I saw when walking into Altrincham Grammar School in Cheshire (first stop on our tour) were owl and sheep sketches that could have been drawn by my young artist character 'Garth' himself.  In ' Kite Spirit' he also creates a sculpture from the carcass of a sheep. And as for the owls... well they play an important part in the unraveling of the plot ... As Kite discovers when she comes across a book on Celtic folklore...

'...owls are used by the dead as a vehicle, to take messages to the living.'

After stimulating talks and workshop sessions with year nine and ten students it was up to the |Lake District for the celebration of Kite Spirit' in the Wordsworth Bookshop. A small section from Wordsworth's 'Spots of time' verse from 'The Prelude' is quoted at the beginning of 'Kite Spirit.' Here are some 'spots of time' from the book tour that for have penetrated my consciousness.

The Wordsworth Book Shop and tea room itself is situated opposite Penrith church yard. My mum's family are from the area and I went to primary school in The Lake District for three years so Penrith is familiar to me but I had never been to this lovely Independent bookshop.

Myself and Catherine Alport outside the lovely Wordsworth Book shop, Penrith
Walking into the low beamed ancient building;  a welcoming fire lit in the grate, was like entering The Carrec Arms, the ancient pub I have created in 'Kite Spirit.' As I gave my talk to a gathering of my Lake District family, friends and students from the Ullswater school... the church bells started ringing and did not stop until I ended my talk. Perhaps 'The Passing Bell' was ringing out for Jack, aged 99, as it does in my book...It's a hazard of the job believing that your characters could actually walk in, sit down and talk to you... The owners of The Wordsworth book shop Andrea and John, have created a place of history, welcome and warmth that is, like 'The Carrec Arms' 'bathed in soft amber light.' Along with Catherine Alport at Macmillan Children's Books they had secretly planned a wonderful event themed around all three of my books, with 'Kite Spirit' bunting, kite cakes, artichokes, Jasmine tea and some celebratory bubbles too! I felt very spoiled indeed.

After the event we were taken to the beautiful Sandhills Farm in Bassenthwaite. I woke at dawn and walked down through the peaceful St Begas Churchyard, following the stream along to Bassenthwaite lake. Not for the first time I felt as if I was walking through the pages of 'Kite Spirit'.

After breakfast Catherine joined me and of course she became 'The bonny Lass who sat upon a stile...' from the ancient song in 'Kite Spirit'!

There was just one thing missing from this perfect walk... an owl.

On we went to Cockermouth school and Helen, the Librarian pointed into some woodland as she drove... and there it was ...'With it's wings stretched to the widest expanse, every cream feather dappled with brown...' I have witnesses to prove it! Was it the Dawn Owl coming to visit me, like she comes to visit Kite?  Or just a coincidence?

'Mirror Falls,' the contemporary house that Kite stays in, has a glass ceiling and a glass floor which 'appeared to Kite like an enormous glass barge jutting off the landscape, or perhaps a giant icicle.'
 So it was with wonder that I walked into the Cockermouth school library to find this beautiful glass roof. A bit of me wondered whether there was a remote control panel that you might be able to press to retract the roof and expose the sky the removable roof at 'Mirror Falls'!

After more talks, workshops and signings and a prize draw for the KidsLit Quiz (of which Cockermouth school is the proud reigning champion) we took the train from Carlisle to Leeds. It's a beautiful journey over the Pennines especially on a 'a perfect picture book blue sky day' like the many 'forget me not blue skies' in 'Kite Spirit'. There was an elderly man helping on the tea trolley who filled us in on the history of the railway. He reminded me of some of my characters in The Carrec Arms; steeped in the history of the place. As we traveled to the highest point, our ears popping with the altitude, he pointed out all the waterfalls, like the one that surges beneath 'Mirror Falls' and he told us the tale of 'Ruswarp' the life saving dog at Garsdale Station... who like Bardsey the sheepdog in 'Kite Spirit' stays by his young companion's side when  she's in great danger. You see once the book is written it's hard not to see reflections of it wherever you go!

We arrived in Hull, and the window display in our hotel was... guess what... 'kites!' I'm not making it up! Here they are to prove it!

In the morning we set off to Hull Collegiate School. I had been to nursery school and year one and two in Hull before our family moved up to the Lake District and afterwards to Shropshire. However, as we chatted to the taxi driver he said that he had never heard of my old school. We pulled up outside an oddly familiar  building. It turns out that the name of the school has been changed and was in fact the school I went to when I was four years old... the same age that Dawn and Kite meet in my book. I had a lovely morning of talking about 'Kite Spirit,' holding workshops and chatting to a reading group and then... into the library walked a young girl I felt I vaguely recognised.

 'My mum says that you and she were best friends at primary school, would you sign my book!' She asked.

I knew that smile though I haven't seen it for well over forty years! Now that has got to go down in my top ten spooky coincidences or whatever you want to call them!

'Kite Spirit' is an exploration of the inner self. What makes you feel like flying and falling and what sustains you. For young people there is so much focus on the exterior: looks, weight, acheivements, popularity and social networks and conforming to an idea of what the world expects you to be.  Here is an A-Z  from boys and girls in Hull.

I felt it only right to fly Kite's 16th birthday kite at my old school. There was enough of a breeze to get the kite off the ground... with a little help from a keen kite flying teacher! (I have inspirational teachers in all my books) and in 'Kite Spirit' it's 'Miss Choulty' who helps my character Kite to fly again.

So... true to form there have been plenty of spooky and sustaining 'spots in time' for 'Kite Spirit' as it takes its first flight on publication day. First birthday's are always special. I have already collected many poems and wishes for Kite written by students after workshops and talks. One hundred of these will be chosen and attached to Kite's 16th Birthday kite (seen above) and placed in an exhibition at Central St Martin's School of Art and Design as part of the Pop Up Festival of Children's Literature in September.

But for now I take a deep breath, blow out the candle... and make my own wish for 'Kite Spirit' as she takes her first flight out into the world on publication day.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Invitation to visit 'Mirror Falls' in 'Kite Spirit'

You are invited to visit  ‘Mirror Falls’ In ‘Kite Spirit’
Swindale Common, The Lake District
The glass sliding doors will be opened on May 9th … but beware of roaming spirits.
RSVP  Sita Brahmachari or Agnes Landseer ( Architect of Mirror Falls!)

When I was writing ‘Kite Spirit’ I was searching for a metaphor for what it can feel like to be in those intense teenage years when you feel that there is so much ahead of you to achieve and aspire to and yet making that leap into independence feels both exhilerating and dangerous. On a marsh opposite the holiday cottage our family often visits in Suffolk (It belonged to Rosie, the inspiration of Nana Josie in ‘Artichoke Hearts and was described in that book) an exciting new building was emerging.  Every time we visited I was amazed to see this contemporary building ‘The Balancing Barn’ begin to take its place on the landscape. But it was no ordinary building that jutted out onto the marsh. It hung off the hillside and underneath was nothing but a great gaping drop, with a swing attached for good measure… the swing of course would be perfect for my character Kite whose dream is to fly on the highest of trapezes – The Cloud Swing.

Lily Armah  plays the part of my character Kite dreaming in the heather in a short film inspired by 'Kite Spirit' .

I had already begun to write the story of ‘Kite Spirit’ and as I surveyed the building from all angles I was amazed. I had watched enough of the development process to realise that this cantilever house that hangs of the hillside was backfilled so heavily that the lighter frame of the majority of the rest of the building was able jut out and hang in space, suspended between the sky and the earth. I’ve never been inside the building but I have often wondered what it would feel like to look down and see that drop below you… and I got to wondering how Kite would feel if I placed her in a house like that when she is already feeling as if she is falling from a great height. It made me think of what it feels like to live through those teenage years, the pressure young people can feel and how important it is for the foundations to be laid firmly enough for you to have the courage to go out into the world and face an unknown future.
Of course as I wrote I had great pleasure in taking this real building and transporting it to a mountain in the Lake District and then changing its surfaces. My house is made of glass, with glass floors and ceilings and a powerful waterfall flowing beneath. Every surface shines.
When I presented her with my first draft my editor was keen to find out where ‘Mirror Falls’ is, and although I was able to share the story of the original stimulus, I’m afraid she was disappointed to hear that she can’t visit Mirror Falls in person because it only really exists in my imagination and when ‘Kite Spirit’ is published I hope it will exist just as strongly in yours…as you step with Kite through the glass sliding doors.

The Balancing Barn in Suffolk is part of Alain de Botton's project to encourage people to expereinece the most imaginative contemporary architecture.

'The light was fading fast as the courtyard and Mirror Falls came into view. The place was bathed in an eerie pink light, making the surrounding trees and the outline of the single-storey glass building resemble an etching. It appeared to Kite like an enormous glass barge jutting off the landscape, or perhaps a giant icicle.

‘I knew you’d be excited when you saw this place,’ Seth called after her, as he drove off the dirt path and pulled into the sloping courtyard. It was made of large sandstone slabs, flattening out at the entrance that was an imposing-looking sliding glass door. To its left was a giant earthenware pot containing a Japanese tree with spindly acid-green arms. There was a clear view from the entrance into the whole house. Through the kitchen she could see a wide corridor that opened out on to another huge room, with a spiral staircase to one side. Beyond that the room expanded further, ending in another mamoth window that mirrored the entrance. So they had come to an open-plan, see-through house! Unsettled, Kite began to wish that they were staying somewhere more normal, like the stone cottages with little protected windows and wild-flower gardens they’d passed on the way.

As Kite stared down at the gaping drop beneath her she wondered if it was possible for her to have drifted into a worse place. If she’d been asked to draw a building that looked how she felt at this moment, she would have drawn Mirror Falls. How could so much of the building to be hanging off the mountain without careering into the chasm below? One thing was for certain. Whoever had dreamed up this house wanted to turn things on their head, to challenge nature.'

The Angel of The North by Antony Gormley

As soon as the metaphor of ‘Mirror Falls’ emerged I began to be drawn more and more to the idea of architecture of buildings reflecting the frame of the human body. There is so much concentration on the external body and external acheivements but perhaps less focus on what is going on inside the mind. In ‘Kite Spirit’ Dawn is seen as almost perfect, willowy slim, faultless make up, a high achiever and yet inside her foundations are crumbling. The Iconic Angel of The North by Antony Gormley  appears in ‘Kite Spirit’ and when I went recently to see Antony Gormley’s sculpture ‘Model’… an invitation to explore the outside and then the inside of the artists body and mind… I began to realise how strongly it echoed with my thoughts as I wrote ‘Kite Spirit’.  I was thinking of the human body like a piece of architecture that contains and protects all the most complicated and vulnerable parts of ourselves.  In ‘Mirror Falls’ I have created a house where there is nowhere to hide. It’s a house that reflects the minds of the people who step inside it… and if those people should see ghosts then the house will reflect those too…
I asked the lovely people at Macmillan Children’s Books which houses from Children’s and YA Literature they would like to visit in reality… Here are just a few of their answers. Where would you visit? 

Hogwarts  (of course) in all the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling.
Belmotte Tower from ‘I Capture The Castle’ by Dodie Smith
The Dump in ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King
The garage in ‘Skellig’ (a personal favourite) by David Almond  
Jo’s attic in ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott
The Wilder’s cabin in ‘The Little House on The Prairie’ By Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Moomin House in ‘Moonminland Midwinter’ by Tove Jansson
Miss Honey’s shed in Matilda, The Peach in ‘James and The Giant Peach’ the Chocolate factory in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Charlie’s grandparents house –OK that’s four visits but all brought to us through the mighty imagination of Roald Dahl
Mr Tom’s House in ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ by Philipa Pearce
William’s house in ‘Just William’ by Richmal Crompton Lamburn 
Green Knowe (You really can visit this one!)  In ‘The Children of Green Knowe, by Lucy M Boston.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Stage review of 'The Arrival'

You create work because you believe in it but when others feel it too it's a lovely feeling.

'A 50-minute gem that fuses movement, music, poetry, circus skills and projected animations seamlessly to bring the experience of strangers arriving in strange lands to life.
It’s a beautiful, moving piece of loss and longing that never feels less than honest and truthful to those whose stories it represents.'
The Stage  15.3.2013