A Bookish Adventure

I started this blog to document an extended trip to the US and UK in 2012, introducing children to my Alice-Miranda series. It's hard to believe that it's just on four years since we launched the first Alice-Miranda title - and now there are nine books out in Australia with another five still to come. When I first came up with the idea of this precocious seven and a quarter year old, I had no clue that she would take me on such an amazing journey, not only in Australia but also across the world. I visited 37 schools while we were away in 2012 and gave over 80 talks - it was fantastic. In 2013 I've been on lots of new adventures in the UK - visiting schools from London to Southampton, Lancashire, Scotland, Newcastle and back to London again. After that I headed off to meet readers in Singapore. In Australia I've been to Melbourne, Perth, Albany, Alice Springs and Brisbane. There's a new series too - about a gorgeous little girl called Clementine Rose. She and Alice-Miranda don't know each other yet, but they will soon.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Royal Masonic School for Girls - the last day of our offical Random House UK Tour

It was hard to believe that two weeks had flashed by and we were coming to the end of the tour.  I was looking forward to our visit to the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth.  The school has a fascinating history, having been established as an orphanage for the daughters of masons.  My own grandfather is a proud mason and I have strong memories of him heading off to 'Lodge' dressed in his dinner suit with his regalia on.

RMS has an unusual and distinguished history. One of the oldest girls’ schools in the country, RMS was founded in 1788 by Chevalier Ruspini to educate the daughters of Freemasons unable through death, illness or disability to support their families. The School started out with fifteen pupils and a matron in Somers Place in East London and moved twice within London and finally to Rickmansworth in 1934. In 1978 RMS became an open, fee-paying school accepting girls from all backgrounds and all faiths, the vast majority of whom have no links with Freemasonry.
Royal Masonic School for Girls Website
The school is situated on around 300 acres of park like grounds and the aerial photographs show an impeccable layout in a classical style.
But the buildings are not what makes a school, the people do. 
Publicist extraordinaire, Stephie,  met Ian and I at Chelsea before we headed to Marylebone for the short train journey to Rickmansworth.  We were met at the station by the lovely Sheryl from Chorleywood Bookshop, with whom I had also spent the first day of the tour.
It was a very short car ride to the school, which was just as impressive in real life as on the website.  Teacher, Shirley Drummond welcomed us warmly and we went straight to the impressive new hall to set up.  They'd had a busy morning with a poetry competition with girls from other schools, including students from Charlotte House.  There was time for lunch in the staff room before a quick tour of the library and then down to meet the girls.  Shirley had done a wonderful job of preparing the girls for my visit and they had already 'met' Alice-Miranda.  The enthusiasm was palpable.  I couldn't believe the similarities between the school and Abbotsleigh, my former workplace in Australia.  I also met another ex-Roseville College student - are they exporting all their girls to London? 
The girls were fabulous and I loved meeting them all.  They participated in the drama activities with such enthusiasm and afterwards I signed books for over an hour.
I can't wait to visit again when I come back to the UK in November and would have loved to spend more time looking around.  There's always next time.
When we arrived back in London, Stephie, Ian and I met Charlotte, another of member of my amazing publicity team, for some celebratory drinks.  It had been a hectic two weeks but absolutely wonderful and I can't tell you how well we were looked after.  The team at Random House Children's Publishers UK are amazing - love, love, love them all.

Windsor - Queen Anne's School and Upton House

After a long and slow journey back to London from Newcastle last night (the snow was the problem apparently) I was looking forward to the shorter journey to Windsor today.  I hadn't ever been there before and couldn't wait to see the castle and the town - certainly I had an image in my mind from the pictures you see on the television.  We were met at the station at Slough by Carol from Waterstone's Windsor, who is one of those people you instantly adore.  Full of fun and ready to give us the cook's tour and potted history of the place on our journey to the first school, I knew the day was going to be fabulous.

Getting my first glimpse of the castle was exciting and the town close up is even more beautiful than I had imagined.  Steeped in history, there is a certain paradoxical charm, knowing that the royal family frequently inhabit the place and a yet a stone's throw across the road in the High Street, Her Majesty, should she wish, could pop out for a Pizza Express or Macdonald's.  I'm sure that never happens but I like the idea of it!  The presence of the golden arches is surely one of the less charming things about Windsor.

We arrived at Queen Anne's School and were made feel very welcome.  Located in a quiet cul de sac close to the Windsor Great Park, the teachers and students were lots of fun.  Our lovely publicist for the day was Lisa, who met us there.  She was fortunate to have grown up in Windsor and her parents still live there.

The children had some great responses to my questions and I especially loved one little boy's answer about going to boarding school, when he said that he'd superglue his feet to the bedroom floor so his parents' couldn't take him.

We had a little bit of time between schools so Carol kindly took us on a tour of Windsor and Eton.  It's an extraordinary place - ancient buildings and rituals and the only place in the world where the boys attend school in ties and tails.  We were hoping to glimpse some of the students and as fate would have it, as Ian and I were standing on the footpath taking pictures of the architecture, two lads exited the library and we were able to get a picture, albeit surreptitiously.  I'm sure they must feel like gold fish a lot of the time.

We then went back to Windsor and had lunch at the Duchess of Cambridge Pub; the name is a happy coincidence as it's an ancient establishment and not named for Kate.

Our second school was a gorgeous place called Upton House.  Small and perfectly formed, the school for girls has a lovely mix of old and new buildings.  The students were delightful and their uniform, complete with the sweetest little Madeline style hat and coat would have made Alice-Miranda jealous.

I met the students in their dance studio space which has a great view of the playground, which is small but serves its purpose well.

The children were so responsive and fun to work with and the place really had a wonderfully happy feel.  I met an Australian teacher from Melbourne working there.  Lucky girl.

Our visit to Windsor was far too short and next time we're planning two days.  Carol showed us some more of the sights on the return trip to Slough.  I can't wait to work with her again next time we're here.  I started looking up Windsor real estate on the train - but think that might be out of the question!  I think I like Windsor as much as Richmond - which up until now was my favourite part of greater London.

We headed back to the city, tired but having had a great day and looking forward to the final school visist at Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth - back to where it all started two weeks ago.

Westfield School Newcastle Upon Tyne

I had a great visit to a beautiful small day school called Westfield in the suburb of Gosforth. Our taxi driver found this one a little more difficult to locate but once there, it was the quintessential girls' school, housed in a stunning old buildng, resplendent with a grand staircase and mosaic tiles on the floor.  The girls were super, participating in the drama with great gusto and asking terrific questions.  The snow really started coming down and by the time we went to leave, the whole place was a picture postcard of white.  We were a little concerned about getting to the train on time but our taxi driver reassured us that this was a good time to be travelling and in about an hour, if the forecast rain arrived, the roads would be icy and dangerous.

Working with Kirstie and Kristine from Waterstone's was great.  I hope to link up again with them later in the year for the Clementine Rose tour.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Newcastle Church High School

We met the lovely Kirstie and Kristine from Waterstone's in Newcastle in the morning at what has to be one of the most gorgeous book stores I've seen.  The building is stunning and the shop is beautifully arranged over many floors.  We received a very warm welcome on what proved an epecially cold day.  It started snowing early on and didn't stop - much to our great delight and I'm sure everyone else's annoyance.  We headed off to meet the girls of Newcastle Church High School in a beautiful part of the town.  The girls and staff were delighful and we had a wonderful time meeting everyone.  It was lovely watching the snow flakes fall and settle on the tennis court outside as I talked to the children.

Before I started the talk, the school had organised to take some photographs for their publications so I had a great time working out how we would set up some shots with four of the girls.  I will upload the photograph once I find it again!

I wished I could have stayed longer!

A Big Day In Newcastle on Tyne

We travelled on the train from Glasgow to Newcastle through stunning countryside, ranging from snow covered mountains to windswept beaches.  Newcastle is much prettier than I had imagined with the Tyne River flowing through the centre and a fabulous redeveopment on the riverfront including restaurants, hotels and museums.  We stayed at the Malmaisson Hotel with a view straight out onto the very cool Millennium Bridge which changes colour in the evenings.  I had a little pang of Sydney homesickness when we first glimpsed the Tyne Bridge which is a miniature version of our very own Harbour Bridge.

An absolute highlight of our visit to Newcastle was meeting the Sayer family; Christine and John and their gorgeous girls Emma and Lily. The girls have been enjoying the Alice-Miranda books with their mum and Christine began following me on Facebook and Twitter.  We had chatted several times and when I said we were coming to Newcastle I realised that they didn't live too far away in Sunderland.  So I asked her if they'd like to come up to Newcastle and meet us.  It was wonderful.  The girls were beautiful - so gorgeous and sweet.  I loved meeting them and Christine and John.  We were only sad that our visit to Newcastle was so short.  We visited two schools the following day which I will write separate blog posts about.

I can't wait to go back to Newcastle when we're in the UK again in November and I hope that I'll be able to visit Emma and Lily's school.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

St Bernadette's Primary School Stenhousemuir near Glasgow

Tuesday saw us visiting the same area as Monday but on the other side of the main road.  The journey there was not nearly as much fun, with an accident on the motorway causing traffic chaos but fortunately we arrived in plenty of time.  The first rule of being a publicist is to leave enough time to ge to your event!  Charlotte was highly organised - as was Stephie and Lisa the week before.

St Bernadette's is a brand new school, opened abut 6 months ago.  Architecturally it's a stand out with fabulous design inside and out.  With the whole school under one roof it's definitely built for the cold weather.  The children and teachers were lovely - highly enthusiastic and great fun.  I talked to a smaller group of students in the spare classroom which is currently a music room - but for how much longer is anyone's guess as the school is growing at a rapid rate.

We worked with the fabulous Linzi from Scotia Books, who was a star bookseller and also treated us to a delicious lunch at the shop.  Pies, gravy and chips - perfect in the chilly Scottish weather.  Linzi had us all laughing - she's such a great girl.  Can't wait to work with them again when we come back for the Clementine Rose tour in November.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

New posts soon - apologies, I've been a little sick

I had hoped to have my tour blog well up to date by now but was layed low with a nasty stomach bug while we were in Edinburgh - so I'm catching up on writing and blogging now that we've arrived in Singapore.  Stay tuned - lots of news about the UK tour and Singapore tour soon to come.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kinnaird Primary School, Kinnaird near Glasgow

My first visit to a school in Glasgow also happened to be the first time an author has visited the very new and beautiful Kinnaird Primary School.  I have been fascinated to see inside Scottish primary schools as they enjoy an excellent reputation with the Australian education community and I was certainly impressed.  The teachers were so welcoming and the children were great fun to work with - although I did have to apologise a couple of times for my hearing - which obviously wasn't completely in tune with their sometimes broad Scottish accents.  Hearing the children pronounce the full name of Alice-Miranda's best friend, Millicent Jane McLaughlin-McTavish-McNoughton-McGill was like music.

I talked to Year 4-7 in their gymnasium which doubles as a hall and had a great time intoducing Alice-Miranda.  The little girl who acted out the role of the school's second best tantrum thrower was hilarious and had the poor little boy who was trying to befriend her, running for cover.

It was lovely to sign the books for the children at the end and we even had the local newspaper journalist come and take photos for a story.  One little girl looked particularly like Alice-Miranda and posed beautifully - I hope to find the picture in the newspaper soon and will add a link to the blog. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Silverdell Bookshop events, Lancashire

Today we met the lovely Elaine from Silverdell Books at Kirkham.  She drove us to the first event at Broughton Business and Enterprise College, where Jo Harwood, librarian extraordinaire had coordinated a group of primary schools to come along and hear about Alice-Miranda and her adventures. As the girls walked into the library, I noticed one student talking very animatedly about Alice-Miranda.  Her name was Zara and she was already a big Alice-Miranda fan (which was heartwarming to say the least).  The girls were very attentive and enthusiastic and I had a great time talking to them, answering their questions and meeting them afterwards to sign books and postcards.

Elaine then drove us through some very pretty villages to her shop in Kirkham, which is bookshop, ice cream parlour and coffee shop all in one.  We were treated to lunch and then of course there was ice cream - home made.  Ian had the Kirkham Crunch and I had a little taste - it is delicious.  Eaine is also a local councillor, so has a huge amount on her plate running a small business and working for the community - which I'm sure can be a thankless task at times. 

We then drove through more rolling countryside and quaint villages to Baines High School, where the lovely librarian, Anne Woodworth had coordinated another group of local primary schools to visit.  The library was very modern and beautifully presented and the girls were as terrific as the morning students.  I've been blown away by the enthusiasm, good manners and delight that the children I've met seem to get from stories and books.  Who said that reading was dead!

It was lovely to talk to the children afterwards as I signed their books - although it was a little bit rushed as they had to be back at school for the end of the day.  Elaine then drove Stephie to the station where we said farewell until the end of next week.  Charlotte is taking over the reins in Glasgow at the beginning of next week.  It was sad to see Stephie go - we have had such a great time.  Elaine then drove us back to the hotel where we said our goodbyes and vowed to be back again at the end of October.  I can't wait to work with her again.

After such an exciting week, Ian and I thought we'd have an early night.  But 8pm?  We're really getting old!  We must have needed the sleep.

Rufford Primary School Rufford, Lancashire

This morning we met publicist extraordinaire Stephie at our hotel and drove across to Euston Station (which is rather nice - and much warmer than Waterloo) where we caught a high speed Virgin train to Preston in Lancashire.  I wish we had the same sort of high speed rail network at home - fast, friendly and efficient - it's fantastic.  We arrived at the station and were greeted by Mike, the Random House rep for the area.  I don't quite know how to explain Mike, except to say that he looks like Elvis (only better looking) and he made me laugh from the minute we met.  He is completely adorable, generous and extremely witty and I can't wait to do more events in his area next time we're in England.

Mike drove us to Rufford Primary school, about 20 minutes out of town where once again we were greeted so warmly.  Miss Farrington, the Head teacher and Mrs Highton (I have never met anyone called Highton before and thought it was fitting, given I was talking about Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones) had arranged everything including a delicious lunch with home made sausage rolls that Mike and Ian were definitely going to fight over.  There were cupcakes too.

I spoke to the Rufford KS1 students (which is the equivalent to the Infants K-2 in an Australian school), introducing them to Clementine Rose.  It was great fun talking to them about Clemmie and her upcoming adventures and we had a couple of stars partcipating in the drama activity.

Afterwards we headed to the hall where I spoke to the 3-6 students from Rufford and several groups of students from neighbouring schools too.  It was great fun meeting them all.  This time we acted out the scene where Alice-Miranda meets Jacinta Headlington-Bear, the school's second best tantrum thrower.  I hadn't expected such a terrifying tantrum thrower - great actor!  The little girl who acted the Alice-Miranda part was brilliant too.

At the end of the talk I signed lots of books (which had been supplied by 'super Tony' from Formby Books - who was two staff down and trying to move into a new shop and still managed to get to my event!) and then made sure we had plenty of photos with the staff.  Miss Farrington took me for a tour of the school, which is small and perfectly formed.  Great classrooms and such a warm and caring staff.  Every school I have visited has made me proud to be an educator.  There are so many good things happening in schools here in the UK.  To see happy children who love learning and dedicated teachers who take pride in their profession is seriously uplifting.

Mike then kindly drove us through what seemed to be pretty busy peak hour traffic to our hotel in Preston.  As we passed the courthouse we were surprised to see lots of heavily armed police, police cars everywhere and some serious police vans.  Later, on the news we learned that a fellow who murdered two policewomen is on trial in Preston, hence the heavy police presence.

We bade farewell to Mike who had quite a drive back to Shropshire and settled in for an early night (and maybe a little bit of champagne to celebrate a great week).

Park Gate Primary School, Locks Heath Southampton

Today I had a a new adventure down south.  I met my wonderful publisher Natalie at Waterloo Station and we caught the train to Southampton, a couple of hours south of London.  My rotten cold had become worse overnight and my voice was very 'iffy' to say the least.  I was doing everything to ensure that it didn't give out before the talk to the children and was quite worried about it.  But the voice held up and I had an amazing day.

I am continually blown away by the kindness of the teachers at the schools and again we were met at the station by one of the staff, Sheena, who drove us to the school.  The welcome from the students in the Discovery Club and Cathy Nailer, the librarian was incredible.  The Discovery Club is a group of keen readers in the sixth grade who come together with the lovely Nicola Gale from Waterstones Southampton to read new books and to expand their reading tastes and encourage wide reading habits.  I was given a badge as an honorary member of the DC - which I wore proudly.

The students in the DC had organised lunch for Natalie and I and it was a diverse and delicious spread.  From home made sandwiches to beautifully decorated Alice-Miranda cupcakes to a treat I'd never had before - Weeta-Bix cake - lovingly made by one of the boys.  It was such a pleasure to witness the children's enthusiasm, answer their questions about writing and reading and just have the opportunity to spend time with such a delightful group of kids.

We were also fortunate to have a visit from the local newspaper so hopefully Alice-Miranda's exploits might even be reported in the Southampton news.

After lunch I spoke to the students in Years 3-5 and the DC members.  I have to say that while I was struggling voice wise, the children couldn't have been more fabulous.  They listened, participated in the drama, asked boat loads of great questions and made my visit absolutely wonderful.  I loved every minute.  The excitement in the signing line was precious and one little girl kissed her book after I'd signed it :).

When I finished my talk and told the children they were the best behaved kids in the world, I hope they believed me - because they truly were amazing.

PS Apologies for the sideways photo - I can't get it to stay the right way round!  The newspaper article has been published and there's a link here:  http://www.wwgazette.co.uk/2013/03/australian-writer-captures-imagination-of-park-gate-pupils/

PS I have some great photos which I can't seem to get the right way around at the moment so I'll add them when I can sort it out!

A return visit to Sarum Hall, Swiss Cottage

The second official tour day dawned with some sunshine.  I was really excited to be heading back to see the girls at Sarum Hall, a school I had visited last year.  This time we went by car and it was lovely to see the beautiful buildings enroute - and the extraordinary houses in the area surrounding the school in suburbs like St John's Wood.

We were greeted warmly by Tina Pritchard, a teacher I had met last year and the lovely Kate Agnew from Muswell Hill Bookshop.  Lisa from Random House met us there and soon enough I was having a great time talking to the girls in Years 3 and 4.  I'd met the Year 4 girls last year and so it was terrific that they already knew Alice-Miranda.  They had lots of fantastic questions and I also had the opportunity to introduce them to Clementine Rose and do some drama from the book.

The library at the school is small and perfectly forrmed - a real haven for booklovers and after the talk we went upstairs so the girls could purchase books and I could sign them.  Alice-Miranda certainly has a lot of friends at Sarum Hall :)

The last child I spoke to was a little girl called Frederika, who already knew me from Australia.  Would you believe she recently moved to London from Roseville College in Sydney.  She had all of the Alice-Miranda books and was hoping that her mother was going to Sydney soon so she could add Alice-Miranda In Paris to her collection when it comes out in March.  It was great to see her and I think I do remember her a little from my past visits to Roseville.

I adore Sarum Hall and can't wait to visit again soon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Charlotte House

With a name like Charlotte House I think I was expecting a story book school filled with gorgeous little girls. And I wasn't disappointed. In a tree line street in Hertfordshire the school occupies a large block of land with plenty of space for the girls to get out and run around. Rows of wellies line the hallways and it is expected that the children will enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather.  Love it!

Alice-Miranda felt right at home - even her uniform was almost the same.  If only the Charlotte House girls wore blue blazers, instead of grey I'm sure Alice-Miranda could have gone off to class and no one would have noticed.

Stephie and I were met at the station by the lovely Sheryl from Chorleywood Bookshop who drove us the short distance to the school where we were greeted by Sallyann O'Dell, the Head of English and Languages. We also met the Head, Miss Jane Mitchell who was very enthusiastic about the visit too. The school exuded warmth and character and I couldn't wait to meet the girls.

They were so attentive but also animated and asked lots of great questions, from 'is there anything you'd change about Alice-Miranda if you could?' to 'how many times do you have to edit your books?'

Tory and Rachel participated in a readers' theatre scene from Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor which will be released in the UK in August.  I'm not sure if Tory loved her hair so much but the girls were great sports.  After the talk I had the pleasure of signing lots of books and hope that the girls will be pleased to meet Alice-Miranda and her friends.