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a writer's life Children's fiction Reading Skelton Yawngrave

Watch Skelton Yawngrave TV

Hope all casual droppers-in to my blog are keeping fine. Here’s my Skelton Yawngrave TV YouTube channel. I am hoping, to upload a chapter a day of my story Magnificent Grace during this lockdown.

I had such fun reading to children when I was visiting schools in Brighton and Sussex, I thought I would take it online, something for children with busy brains to do during lockdown. So if you happen to know of an imaginative whippersnapper in key stage 2, 9-12 years old, perhaps they might enjoy being pointed to to Skelton Yawngrave TV.

Here’s me reading the first chapter.

 

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Children's fiction Education Prose Readings Skelton Yawngrave

Taking Magnificent Grace into schools

A90BE577-EF30-4610-BF72-71E75A1761B4They say it is good to leave your comfort zone, and recently I have been doing that and found myself loving it. For Skelton Yawngrave was invited to several schools to talk about Magnificent Grace during the week of World Book Day.  Instead of an immaculately-dressed skeleton man, however, the children got his alter ego: me.  Creating an alter ego is one of the things I talk about with the children — and they love the idea. 

On 28th Feb I was in Bolney Primary School meeting some strong writers. The glamorous head teacher there happens to be my wife, and we asked the children add the imaginary to something they were familiar with. My example was of adding a skeleton to a swimming pool.  In one child’s story the protagonist was riding into the nearby woods, on a bicycle that sank and sagged as it had transformed (with hallucinatory clarity) into a machine made of confectionaries. Children seem to add magic naturally.

The 3rd March saw me at Downs Junior school in Brighton, with my minder for the day Dawn Daniel. I am really indebted to Dawn who helped me to reach out to children readers as I was writing the book. My assembly included a reading of the first chapter, to which the children (thankfully) listened with rapt attention. Dawn and I then went to four classes to talk about themes of prejudice and unfairness and importance of editing.

6th March was World Book Day itself. Through relentless rain I dragged a  wheeled suitcase full of books to Preston Park station. Getting off at Balcombe I forded the running muddy stream that was the tarmac path. I received a warm welcome and a cup of tea at Balcombe School, and was told that the children had been playing indoors because of the deluge.

I spent the afternoon with two year groups in one class room, reading from the story, and talking about everything from talking dogs to racism. After trundling to Balcombe station I waited for a half an hour as it poured more. A mother and two kids were on the platform, and one of them produced his copy of Magnificent Grace which he had bought at school and began avidly reading it. A moment that was worth the whole trip. D00928AA-C84A-4068-AE52-56FD96813589

Friday 7th March was Balfour School, luckily just a few flaps of a seagull’s wing away from my house. Two readings and Q&A sessions in the gym. Full of brainy children and a warm and friendly welcome from the staff.

Then in the afternoon, I returned to Downs to sign a few more books, and offer my thanks again to Emma the English subject leader there.  As I was walking home, I passed two children from Balfour, who said hello to me and told me my book was brilliant.  Another wonderful moment.

By the end of the week I had signed so many books as Skelton Yawngrave, that I am beginning to prefer his signature to my own.

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a writer's life Children's fiction Prose Publishing Skelton Yawngrave

Magnificent Grace — now in paperback!

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Magnificent Grace paperback now available here

Few moments in life are like popping open a box of books you happen to have written.  More accurately I should say written by my alter ego Skelton Yawngrave III. Skelton was wildly pleased with himself. Though cheerful, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Properly armed with my 322 page book, I am particularly looking forward to continuing my school visits.  I was very excited and encouraged by the children’s response at two schools in Sussex, St Giles school in Horsted Keynes, and Bolney School, in Bolney. I have forthcoming visits to St Marks school next week, and Balcome School.

I’ve been really enjoying representing Skelton, and reading sections of the book. In my visits so far I have discussed unfairness and justice, prejudice and tolerance. We have looking hard at the editing process. The children were fascinated to hear how many drafts the book went through, and that I employed professional editor Charlotte Norman to review and copy edit the text.    

I discuss the use of a pseudonym, and ask children what identity they might choose, and what sort of writing they might do. This often elicits interesting answers as the children suddenly discover they might have their own alter ego waiting to express itself. One child, however, said he would write about polar exploration and his pen name would be I.C. Waters which made me laugh.

I early video YouTube experiments with a talking skeleton and visualisations of the characters by my mother Margaret Hamlin to show how I began to develop the characters. My mother’s pictures get oohs! of amazement when I produce them — which gives me a bit of a Romesh Ranganathan’s mother moment.

Having made a living as a writer for at least twenty five years, and having poems and prose published from the age of 22, this is the first time I have self-published a story. In 2020 I find this carries little stigma any more. In a time when many publishers and agents are so risk averse the idea of just getting on with it is very refreshing. I have never been much good at waiting for permission before I start something creative, so doing it this way fits unapologetically with who I am. I can tell you that whenever a child enthuses about Magnificent Grace, it is an absolute vindication.

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a writer's life Art Blowing my own trumpet Book Launch Children's fiction Fiction Prose

Magnificent Grace, by Skelton Yawngrave

If you happen to know a child of 9-12 who likes reading, and want a tale set in the run up to Halloween and Guy Fawkes night… then I have a full length story (a.k.a. my kindle experiment) for them. It’s creepy, funny, magical and dystopian and is about trying to bring together a divided populace.

Grace is a heroine for a troubled age. The story was complete before I came to know about Greta Thunberg. Grace would love Greta.

It can be found here on Amazon. It’s on kindle at the moment — at a snip — turning into a paperback soon now looks likely.

The cover painting is by the splendid young artist Ellie Francesca Watson. Ellie happens to be the daughter of Carl, one of my oldest and best pals, which makes it doubly nice for both of us. Also I would like to thank Charlotte Norman who edited the manuscript and helped me recognise, and then eliminate, some bad habits in my prose style. What I learned from her was enormously useful, and I have carried these learnings into my short horror fictions.

Thanks are also due to my chum Tracey Middleton who, tired of my whining early this year, put a rocket up my derrière to get this done.

Being married to a headteacher is a wonderful boon too, and Lorraine’s patience, encouragement and knowledgeable guidance has been invaluable. Our friends in education Rosie Taylor and Dawn Daniel have given me essential feedback and the opportunity to go into schools and try it out on real life children.

Several years ago, my mum painted pictures of some of the characters, and this was extremely useful in focusing my ideas.

I decided to publish this story under a pseudonym. It has had an unexpected psychological boon. I struggle to promote myself, but I adore Skelton Yawngrave, however, who is a character in the book as well as its author, and I would do anything to help him.

So this is my kindle experiment. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Categories
Autobiographical Defenders of Guernsey Guernsey Prose

‘Defenders of Guernsey’ now on kindle

I have revised ‘Defenders of Guernsey’. This second edition, for an 8-to-adult age is now available on Kindle.

As a child my grandparents lived in a road in Guernsey called La rue des Grons. When I lived there as a child, and then stayed with my grandparents on every school holiday the few streetlights went off at 10.30. It was very dark and definitely spooky. Just down the road was a spot that my grandfather, David Marquis, used to zoom past at night. This place was known as Le coin de La Biche (the goat’s corner) and was rumoured to be haunted by the apparition of an enormous nanny goat.

Still the most authoritative book on Guernsey folklore, Folklore of Guernsey by Marie DeGaris devotes a few paragraphs to the giant red-eyed beast and its fearsome sightings, one of which scared a 16 year old girl to death.  I was always happy about La Biche, as it’s not everyone lucky enough to have a star of folklore living a hundred yards or so down the road.

I’ve been working on a children’s character called Skelton Yawngrave for some time. I am now on the sixth draft of a novel which features him. However, when I was invited to the first Guernsey literary festival in 2011 to talk to some children, I thought I would write a longish (13,000 word) short story called Defenders of Guernsey featuring Skelton and La Biche which was published then as a limited edition.

My friend Amanda Milne is developing a board game set on the island, and having read this story borrowed the idea of a terrifying goat. Amanda’s game is now in its a prototype form and being tested by games players. You can read more about the SchilMil game in development here.

Defenders of Guernsey Kindle
Defenders of Guernsey now on kindle. My mother Margaret Hamlin painted La Biche for the cover.

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Music Poetry Telltale Press

A stocktake

Thanks to hefting a sack of wet sand just before New Year, January was a trapped nerve. Weeks of sleepless and painful nights left me groggy. In one fanboy moment I tweeted (it seemed right) Pascale Petit about her fabulous poem Ortolan about her father eating a songbird. She told me that it was written after a sleepless night in Paris. I wish insomnia made me anywhere near as creative. Anyhow, with January swept under the carpet this is a snapshot what I’m up to, and who I’m up to it with.

  • Board Games a rather surprising entry this. But I find that I am long-range adviser to Amanda Milne, doyenne of New Zealand’s board game inventors at SchilMil, who is planning to set a game on an island well known to me.
  • Music I have begun a new collaboration with Helen Russell, a Hove based composer, who got in touch after hearing the Clameur CD I did with Matt Pollard. My project with Helen is in its infancy, but it is a longer piece of music with orchestra and singers. We are basing the piece on a story by Jose Saramago. This is the first time I have worked with an existing text as a springboard but, now I have adjusted to the idea, I’m quite enjoying the structure this provides. It is exciting to sit at the piano listening to Helen play some of her emerging beautiful fragments and sketches. I’ve already begun to supply some words, and I’m fascinated to see how this project unfolds.
  • Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd. Already this year I have been working on  IBS and swine health projects. Annoyingly other more glamorous projects are about to go live, but I cannot yet speak of them due to commercial sensitivity. In the could-do-better department, however, I am also working to improve my marketing blog.
  • Poetry Under the benign influence of Robin Houghton, I am being more methodical about sending my poems out for publication. There was room for improvement. But after a few weeks I’ve already had an acceptance already from Helen Ivory at Ink Sweat & Tears. I am also now firmly part of Telltale Poet’s Collective with Robin Houghton. We are about to go into Borg mode and assimilate new poets. Further readings and publications will be announced. I’m also consumed by a passion for reading poetry again. Poets I’ve read in January included (in no particular order) Pascale Petit, David Harsent, Rhona McAdam, Tamar Yoseloff, Ester Jansma, Jorie Graham, Catherine Smith, Kathryn Simmonds, John McCullough, Stephen Bone, Tara Bergin, and Tua Forsström.
  • Prose I have vowed this year to finish my children’s novel featuring a character called Skelton Yawngrave. I have been writing this off and on for about eight years. It must end now, mustn’t it?  Could this be the year Skelton Yawngrave emerges from the shadows?

Skelton Yawngrave
Skelton Yawngrave