What do a silver lining, dragon tears & a floating princess have in common?

Magical-ness, of course. And in the last five days, Moontrug has stumbled into ALL of these things. The silver lining rainbow cloud came first, on a drive down to the New Forest. Four-leafed clovers and horseshoes may be symbols of luck – but silver lining rainbow clouds? Symbols of pure magic, surely.

Cloud

The next bundle of magical-ness was found tucked inside a L’ETO cafe in London. Printed on the menu was an item so rare and mystical it’s a wonder there aren’t crowds queuing outside… DRAGON TEARS. Boom. And I gobbled them up – he he he.

Dragon tears

But perhaps the most breathtakingly magical thing of all was the floating princess found by a shimmering lake inside an enchanted forest. Where, you ask? Inside the National Theatre, at the Southbank, in London…

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Based on a Scottish fairytale by George MacDonald, The Light Princess brings together iconic singer-songwriter Tori Amos with playwright Samuel Adamson and director Marianne Elliott (Curious Incident, War Horse) in a spectacularly dark fairytale about grief, rebellion and the power of love…  Once upon a time, in opposing kingdoms lived a princess and a prince who had both lost their mothers. Princess Althea of Lagobel, unable to cry, becomes so light with grief that she floats. Embarrassed by his daughter, Althea’s father locks her away. Meanwhile, Prince Digby of Sealand becomes so heavy-hearted after his mother dies that he can’t smile, and so his father forces him to train as a warrior. But when the kingdoms of Lagobel and Sealand declare war on each other, Althea is forced out of hiding and down to ground. In defiance of her father, she runs away – only to encounter the solemn prince on contested land. Beside a magical lake, the warring heirs begin a passionate and illicit affair. But for Althea to find real love, she must first confront the world’s darkness and face her own deepest fears.

Map

The Light Princess is up there with the most magical stage productions in London, as brilliant as Matilda in many ways. Because although Althea is a princess, although she floats and lives in a magical kingdom called Lagobel, she’s real. She’s not an old-fashioned fairytale princess – she’s a girl with attitude, with faults and weaknesses just like the rest of us. She may be a strong-natured red head (just like Merida from Brave or Princess Fiona from Shrek), who does fighting, answering back, giggling, snogging – and lots of floating – but she’s also a damaged child, at times selfish and uncaring, at times vulnerable and lonely. One minute we’re laughing at her ability to be carefree and cheeky; the next minute our eyes are misting up as we learn the heart-breaking truth of how her father has stopped her floating. And we know it’ll take more than carefree cheekiness for Althea to feel properly alive again.

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Not only is the play brimming with wonderful characters – a courageous orphan, Zephrus the bird, a cheeky mouse and a handsome prince – the set is also incredible. A glittering lake with gliding flamingoes, swaying lilies (and naughty frogs), a forest of giant pink sycamore leaves, a library wall scaled by a floating princess, a car that races through the depths of a dragon-ridden forest… Don’t close your eyes – don’t even blink – you won’t want to miss a thing. And don’t forget to buy a programme when you’re there: adults, it’s got a fascinating article on gender discrimination by Tanya Bryon (British psychologist, writer and media personality) and kids, all theatre programmes smell AMAZING. It’s worth it just for that. The Light Princess is on until February 2nd, it’s suitable for 10+ years, it’s showing at The National, Southbank, and you can buy tickets here.  Have a Moontruggishly Magical New Year!

‘String is the only thing that is never, never boring. String, and birds.’

Any book that opens with a baby floating inside a cello case in the middle of the English Channel is off to a good start. And so Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers begins. Shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Rooftoppers follows the extraordinary journey of Sophie, a girl with hair the colour of lightning, who is orphaned after the Queen Mary sinks.

urlClick here to buy on amazon

An eccentric passenger on the ship, Charles Maxim, rescues Sophie and she goes to live with him. In a house where meals are eaten off old Shakespeare plays and handwriting is practised by scribbling on the walls, Sophie leads a carefree and unconventional life with her beloved ward. But when the authorities come and declare Charles an unfit guardian (apparently buttons are key players in international affairs and knowledge is more than knowing that the collective noun for a group of toads is a knot), Sophie and Charles flee the country.

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Where to? Paris, of course. Because Sophie is searching ‘for a possible’. Although everyone else thinks she is an orphan because her mother died at sea, Sophie believes otherwise. And so armed with a whole chicken beneath his overcoat, Charles sets off with Sophie for France. But the local police will do anything to cover up one of the biggest insurance scams in the country: the sinking of the Queen Mary. So Sophie must try something else if she’s to find out whether her mother is really still alive. Cue the band of wild, unruly Rooftoppers. Can Matteo and his gang help Sophie uncover the secrets of her past?

a_view_of_the_eiffel_tower_over_paris_rooftops

Rooftoppers is one of the most beautifully written books Moontrug has read in a long time. Maybe that’s because Rundell understands just how brilliant the moon is… To describe Charles’ voice, she writes: ‘Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal cords.’ Ooooooh that’s good. And as for Sophie, she’s ‘cut from the stuff of the moon.’ Moontruggishly great. There’s something deep and magical about Rundell’s words: ‘His gaze was the sort that sees your soul, and makes you wonder where to put your hands’ – they sort of leave your heart ‘hummingbirding’, as Sophie would say.

full_moon_____midnight_forest_by_gothrixMoons and hummingbirding is all very well – but if you combine it with humour then you’re onto something very special indeed.  Lines like ‘She was going to die because she had never looked properly at a pig’ and ‘Throwing children across rooftops is frowned upon, I believe’ are what make Rooftoppers such a hugely enjoyable read. That, and the fact that the book holds some of life’s greatest secrets within its pages:

 

  • ‘Perhaps because sometimes everybody needs to be stupidly and recklessly brave.’
  • ‘You see. String is the only thing that is never, never boring. String, and birds.’
  • ‘Keep your secret, then, my darling. Everybody needs them. They make you tough, and wily.’
  • ‘I think, actually, everyone starts out with some strange in them. It’s just, whether or not you decide to keep it.’
  • ‘It is difficult to believe extraordinary things. It is a talent you have, Sophie. Don’t lose it.’
  • ‘Perhaps, she thought, that’s what love does. It’s not there to make you feel special. It’s to make you brave. It was like a ration pack in the desert, she thought, like a box of matches in a dark wood.’
  • ‘Do not underestimate children. Do not underestimate girls.’

Rooftoppers is a fantastic read for 8-12 years. So good, in fact, that it’s climbed (how appropriate for a Rooftopper) it’s way up into Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower and a few of its quotes have flown (just as appropriate for a Skytreader) right into Moontrug’s Nuggets of Truth.  Because that’s what happens when you believe in possibles.

Winners of the Moonbug Winter Story Competition…

Some days are good days (ice-cream-eating trampoline-bouncing days) while other days are bad days (dentist-going homework-slogging days). And then there are the extra cool AMAZING days where you find Moontrugs across the world writing stories so brilliant you want to stand up and clap after the first sentence. Well, that’s what happened when Moontrug judged the entries for the Moonbug Winter Story Competition. The brief was simple: write a story about the Magical Stone Circle in Castlerigg, Cumbria (yes, such a place does exist) – but the stories that came Moontrug’s way were so brilliantly mystical that Moontrug spent many hours clapping.

Magical Circle
A huge congratulations goes to joint winners Ginny Bell (9 years old), all the way from Singapore, and Annika Arora (9 years old), from London town – keep an eye on the post for your Waterstone’s gift voucher prizes! And watch out J.K. Rowling, you’ve got competition on your hands with these two. Annika’s wonderful story was posted up on Moontrug recently (on account of her fabulous Agent duties: click here) so without further ado, here is Ginny’s story. And for more exciting competitions, check out Moontrug’s latest round up.

The Mini Violin
by Ginny Bell

 

Emma Brown was the most ordinary girl you can imagine. She had straight mousy brown hair which was cut into a short bob.

 

“Emma, it’s time to go to the magical stone circle!” Emma’s Mum shouted up the stairs. Emma, who was not even in her pyjamas hurriedly got changed and ran downstairs as fast as she could!

 

“There you are, we were going to leave without you,” Emma’s Dad teased as Emma reached the bottom of the stairs; she had rushed down the stairs and was now panting!

 

When they reached the magical stone circle Emma was a bit scared at first and a weird feeling of dizziness came over her but she ignored it. Emma’s parents needed some “adult time” so they sent Emma exploring by herself and as she was trudging in the snow she heard a noise…

 

“Tap, tap, tap…” Now she was certain it was coming from the rocks. “Tap, tap, tap…” She was sure it came from the rock closest to her. ‘Tap, tap tap…” It was coming from a hole in the rock. ‘Tap, tap – ’ and there it was!

 

Was IT an it or was IT a she? Emma wasn’t quite sure but whatever it was it was trapped! Now Emma looked closer she could see it was a girl. She had long, flowing, golden hair with glimmering green eyes. She also had a pink beanie cap on and a purple fur coat; which was perfectly suited to the weather. The only strange thing about her was the fact that she was seven inches tall! More importantly the hole which she was trapped in was all frozen up!

 

Emma tried many ways to break through the ice but she just couldn’t! All of a sudden she felt something in the back of her pocket. Once she got it out and got all the bits of fluff off she realised it was a tiny violin! Since she could play she played: ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas” and as she did the ice slowly melted away…

 

“Emma where are you?” her parents shouted.

 

“Thank you for saving me but you should go and find your parents, they are looking for you,” the small girl whispered.

 

“Ok,” Emma whispered back and the small girl ran off, never to be seen again however, Emma was never quite so ordinary again…

 

Before I finish this story I am glad to tell you that Emma still has the violin and it is still in great condition; it is now her favourite possession.

Ice bears, frozen wolves and recipes for snow? The best winter reads…

One of the best things about reading is that you can read any book (adventure, mystery, fantasy, dystopia) anywhere (up a tree, behind the curtains, under the table, in the kitchen sink…) But there are certain books best read at certain times of the year.  For example, Louis Sachar’s Holes, about a boy called Stanley Yelnats who must dig a hole a day, five feet deep and five feet across, in the scorched soil of Camp Green Lake, is best read in the summer – when you’re actually hot.  Read it on a cold wintry day and Stanley’s baking hot juvenile detention centre begins to seem like a pretty nice holiday camp…

aa8b9f435def49dba91f9e7fa52d9ae0Click here for more info about Holes 

So as we wriggle deeper into the winter months, let’s hear it for the books that bring worlds of frost, icicles and snow to life.  First up is Sam Gayton’s The Snow Merchant. Lettie Peppercorn lives in a house on stilts near the wind-swept coast of Albion. Nothing incredible has ever happened to her, until one winter’s night. The night the Snow Merchant comes. He claims to be an alchemist – the greatest that ever lived – and in a mahogany suitcase, he carries his newest invention. It is an invention that will change Lettie’s life – and the world – forever. It is an invention called snow. The book boasts lines as brilliant as ‘In came the moonbeams. They pooled on the window ledges like wax’ and an ingenious recipe for snow:

 

Made with LOVE, ALCHEMY and the following INGREDIENTS (listed in their order of use):

A length of silence, at least a hundred years long
Dust motes, charged with static
Seven drops of aether
Six dice
One teaspoon of salt
A string of frost, threaded through an icicle
A grey cloud, spun upon a silver wheel
Water

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cut the century-long silence into seven tiny moments.
Sprinkle the moments with dust and static.
Add a drop of aether to each.
Then throw in the dice (which ensures the snow remembers to have six sides).
Repeat this six times (for luck).
Stir in a teaspoon of salt (so the snow will melt).
Sew everything inside the cloud, using the icicle needle and thread of frost.
Finally, add water.

The-Snow-Merchant41Click here to buy on amazon

Next up is one of Moontrug’s favourite books: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights.  Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world… You’ll need to be curled up in an armchair by the fire to face that lot. Kicking back on a sun-lounger by a pool just ain’t going to cut it…

northernlights Click here to buy on amazon

Following on from Lyra, we’ve got the frozen lair of Wintercombe in Catherine Fisher’s Obsidian Mirror. Jake’s father disappears while working on mysterious experiments with the obsessive, reclusive Oberon Venn. Jake is convinced Venn has murdered him. But the truth he finds at the snow-bound Wintercombe Abbey is far stranger… Fisher makes you feel the freezing breath of the ice wolf chasing after Sarah and she makes you shiver at the snow crunching under Gideon’s sorrowful feet. Read this book wrapped up in a blanket in bed – you’re going to need the covers for the sinister Janus, not to mention the merciless Shee. Read about Moontrug meeting the talented Catherine Fisher HERE.

urlClick here to buy on amazon

Last but not least, an old classic. You cannot beat one of the most magical winter tales of all time: C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Moontrug and her truggy family used to huddle by the fire and watch the BBC adaption of this book every Christmas; the theme tune still sends magical icy shivers down Moontrug’s spine. Try it. Four children, evacuees from World War Two, find themselves sent away from London to an old professor’s house in the country. Miserable and homesick, the Pevensie children stumble across an old wardrobe with a secret.  On the other side of this wardrobe is the mystical land of Narnia, where talking fawns and wolf guards roam. But Narnia is controlled by the White Witch in an eternal winter and before long, the Pevensie children find themselves fighting to restore goodness to Narnia in the name of the real king, Aslan. Shades, beach towels and suncream just won’t work with this book. It’s all crackling fires, hot drinks and thick winter coats.

LionWardrobe10Click here to buy on amazon

So wherever you are this Christmas holidays, pick up a book and get reading. Gayton, Pullman, Fisher and C.S. Lewis have snow-capped worlds of wonder waiting for you. So step on in…

 

 

 

 

 

A tiny snail and a giant whale…

When I bought tickets for the theatre adaption of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Snail And The Whale, I did not expect to be given a soaking from a water pistol. But then again I don’t think Harry Potter expected to battle a Hungarian Horntail dragon at 14 years old. See, that’s the thing with adventures – the best ones are always the ones that involve unusual events or unexpected twists. And there was plenty of that at St James’ theatre today…

water pistol

Tall Stories (creators of the Gruffalo and Room on the Broom stage shows) have collaborated with award-winning picture book author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. Their story of a tiny snail that longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of a humpback whale has been magically translated to the stage. Follow the tiny snail’s amazing journey, as seen through the eyes of an adventurous young girl and her seafaring father… The snail has enough courage to ride the high seas but will it have enough wisdom to save the whale when it gets beached? Click here for a sneak preview.

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Outside St James’ Theatre there were gigantic cranes, huge construction sites and manic Christmas shoppers, but inside the theatre was a small pocket of magic (like being underneath the Upside Down tree in Hyde Park while mad people are running around outside in silly leggings or walking miniature dogs)… Within moments of the play starting, the characters came alive, carrying us with them to ‘shimmering stars and coral caves, shooting stars and enormous waves.’ A violinist cracked out seagulls’ squawks so sharp we could almost see the birds flapping in the wind – and just to make sure the whole audience could picture the grey-blue humpback whale, we were pelted with its spray. Cue the water pistols…

whale

The comic timing was brilliant and the set fantastic (clever clever whale-making tricks and WHAT an explosive volcano…) but above all, the play’s magic lay in its power of imaginative storytelling, almost as if the whole cast had heard what author Phillip Pullman once said, ‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.’ So drop into St James’ Theatre for a Christmas treat – it’s perfect for 4+ years and it’s on until 5th January. See Moontrug Events for more details, and in keeping with the snail and the whale’s adventures, Moontrug has dug out five of the best adventure books out there right now – so go on, dive right in!

 

Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes (10+ years)

moonMeet the Rat: a dancing, football-playing gangster-baiting ten-year-old. When she foresees her father’s death, she picks up her football and decides to head for New York.  Meet her older brother, Bob: protector of the Rat, but more often her follower.  Bob is determined to find their uncle in America and discover a new life for them both but neither Bob nor the Rat could ever have foreseen what would happen along the way…  The book makes you want to jump up and sing or to leap off and fly! Wonderfully funny but moving, too.

Click here to buy on amazon
If you liked this book, you may also like: Holes by Louis Sachar.

 

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (9+ years)

url-1Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.
Click here to buy on amazon
If you liked this book, you may also like: Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge.

 

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge (9+ years)

hardingeIn a cut-throat world of highwaymen, spies and smugglers, and insane rulers in silly wigs, runaway Mosca Mye and her goose companion have uncovered a dark plot winging its way towards the city. Soon mischief and mayhem will lead to murder…  Frances Hardinge’s breathtaking debut novel has at its heart an inspiring truth – that the power of books can change the world. Fly By Night is one such book.

Click here to buy it on amazon
If you liked this book, you may also like: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman


The Last Wild
 by Piers Torday (9+ years)

The Last WildThis is the story of a boy named Kester. He is extraordinary, but he doesn’t know that yet. All he knows, at this very moment, is this:
1. There is a flock of excited pigeons in his bedroom
2. They are talking to him
3. His life will never be quite the same again
A fast-paced adventure with totally brilliant characters. Look out for wolf-cub and the white pigeon – they’re moontrug’s favs.

Click here to buy it on amazon
If you liked this book, you may also like: Watership Down by Richard Adams


Bridge to Terabithia
 by Katherine Paterson
 (9+ years)

terraJess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.  That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.  A story of remarkable richness and depth – beautifully written.

Click here to buy on amazon
If you liked this book, you may also like: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.

 

Meet Moontrug’s 9-year-old agent…

For the past few weeks Moontrug’s been working with a undercover agent: a 9-year-old accomplice who has been scouting the best children’s books out there for the Altocumulus Tower. She devours books as quickly as Dudley Dursley gobbles down cake and she has an eye for the stories that will go on to become international best-sellers. Her name is Annika Arora (even her name is moontruggishly wonderful) and not only is she a Book Scout Agent, she is also an up and coming author herself. And as a little treat, Moontrug wanted to share her entry for the Moonbug Winter Story Competition (see Competitions for entry details). Here it is…

Wintermist

Amber yawned. She tossed and turned but couldn’t get back to sleep. Throwing her legs out of bed, she sauntered over to the frosty window. Her hot breath melted the ice like butter on a pancake. When she looked outside her bedroom window, she saw Wintermist catching the sunlight like a malevolent dream to a dream catcher. The old yet fascinating stones had been there before time even dawned.

Magical Circle 150x150 competitions

She yawned again; brushing her golden hair behind her ears. “I’ll go for a walk since I can’t get back to sleep,” sighed Amber, “To Wintermist? Yes, to Wintermist.” Throwing on her clothes, she opened her door. Down the spiral staircase, past the oak door, closing the garden gate and….Presto! She was outside.

 

As she headed for Wintermist, Amber remembered that it was Christmas Eve. Her fiery red eyes sparkled; she had an adventurous spirit. When she neared Wintermist, Amber knew something wrong. She spotted a loose stone slab. Curiously, she pushed it. The stone sank. Then, out of the crack, popped a sled. Amber jumped on. The sled lurched, and then sped off into the hole.

Sledge

Amber plunged into darkness. “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” she shrieked.  “Helllllppppppppp!”

 

When she opened her eyes, she saw she was plummeting into a light, spiralling tunnel made of ice.  Hurtling down, Amber saw twisting icicles rush past her as sharp as a shark’s tooth.  She gasped.  Unfolding before her was a magical ice kingdom!  Amber jumped off, glad to be off that horrible ride.  She froze.  Scuttling across the ice was a glowing spirit.

ice palace

“My fellow….” He trailed off, noticing Amber.  “What are you?” he said.

 

“I – I – am – am – a – g – girl,” she stuttered.  Only then did she notice the Christmas trees grouped together in colours. Blues, reds, rainbow shimmers, turquoises, aqua-marine and so on.

 

The spirit winked.  “So you’ll want to go on the journey, I suppose?”

 

“What journey?” Amber stammered. The thought of the sled made her nauseous.  “But my mother told me never to stray further than Wintermist Circle of Stones!”

 

The spirit laughed, then he grabbed Amber’s wrists and in seconds he was off the ground and he was flying.  He clicked his fingers towards the Christmas trees.  One by one they disappeared but their colourful lights shimmered on the spirit’s skin. Somehow Amber knew that the spirit was carrying the Christmas trees with him.

Colours

“One… Two… Three… Go!” shouted the spirit and off they zoomed into the night sky. Over to London they flew. Amber gasped. She had never seen poverty, starvation or even the wide world before. She was overwhelmed by sadness.

 

The spirit shot colourful glitter out of his hands: yellow, green, white, gold and many more colours came gliding out. The colours flew down the chimneys of the nearby houses; formed and then settled in comfy positions near the fireplaces. She also noticed that the people on the streets had Christmas trees – they were much smaller but just as bright.  Amber realised that each tree had a gift: hope, joy, trust, honesty, love, fun and friendship.

 

A few hours later, Amber and the spirit returned joyous from their journey.

 

“Here,” said the spirit. “Have this.” And he handed over a beautiful glass angel.

 

“Thank you. I will always be grateful,” Amber replied.  And with that she went home.  The sun rays bounced off the glass angel in all the colours of the rainbow and Amber knew that she would always remember the magical Christmas trees –  because they gave hope and joy without wanting anything in return.

angel

 

 

Paper worlds and sinister fairies…

Visits to art galleries can go two ways. Either the paintings are so mind-numbingly DULL that you wander around in a zombied daze, bump into some grumpy curator and then shuffle off remembering absolutely nothing of what you’ve seen. Or… you hit the jackpot and the gallery is full of paintings brimming with stories, characters and magic.

 

Just like Byron Burgers is the best hunting ground out there for bacon avocado burgers, so art galleries are the prime hunting ground for stories. It’s like seeing a small section of someone’s imagination locked inside a frame – and you get to do whatever you like with it. Unless the painting looks like this, of course, (which sold for $1.6 million), in which case you could write a very boring story about an overweight brussel sprout.

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Green White by Ellsworth Kelly

Last week moontrug popped into The Guildhall Gallery, London, to see The Victoriana exhibition. Featuring graphic design, film, photography, ceramics, taxidermy (stuffed animals), furniture, textiles and fine art, the show explored work inspired by the 19th century and created over the last 20 years, highlighting the ongoing influence of the Victorian age. Inside I found some of the best story ideas I’ve seen in art galleries yet. There was Su Blackwell’s While You Were Sleeping dress, inspired by a Burmese legend about the soul butterfly. It is believed that a sleeping person’s soul takes the shape of a butterfly and flies abroad while its owner is asleep, searching for the souls of other persons and animals and returning when the owner awakes. Maybe that’s where David Almond got his inspiration from for Astral Travelling in My Name is Mina

Su Blackwell dress

After seeing Su Blackwell’s butterflies I went home and researched her further. Few things are as magical as seeing a book come alive before you – and this is exactly what Blackwell does. Using her knowledge of fairytales and folklore, Blackwell uses a scalpel to cut figures, animals, houses and trees out of actual books. Click here for a sneak peek. Think Wild Swans, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Little Red Riding Hood, Pandora’s Box. Suddenly my moontruggy head is spinning with ideas: of creatures that break free from books and settle in our world, of houses made of paper that crumble if its inhabitants leave, of children with paper hearts who burn when shown love. Maybe Cornelia Funke (author of Inkheartchanced across Blackwell, too – that would explain why Silvertongue reads so many characters out of books and into his and Meggie’s world. Excitingly, Su Blackwell has teamed up with author Wendy Jones to bring us a gorgeous book in time for Christmas: A Fairytale Princess: Seven Classic Stories from the Enchanted Forest. Click here to buy on amazon.

2008-the-wild-swans

The second Guildhall Gallery artist whose work was stirring with magic (albeit a more sinister, darker magic) was Tessa Farmer – and her malignant fairies. Forget Tinkerbell and the Fairy Godmother… Farmer brings us a deeply unsettling picture of fairies – of sprites that meddle with human affairs, of imps who wreak havoc wherever they go – just like the fairies Michelle Harrison creates in her brilliant 13 Treasures series. Harrison’s fairies are deceitful, malicious and even deadly – and it’s up to Red and Tanya to fight their way past them. Click here for Harrison’s list of the best ‘BAD’ fairies. But Farmer’s fairies are creepy right down to the way they’re made. Constructed from bits of organic material, such as roots, leaves, and dead insects, Farmer creates a nightmarish flock of fairies who harness mayflies, battle honey bees and attack spindly spiders…

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What started as a moontruggy jaunt down to an art gallery has now become a giant spider diagram of malevolent fairies, warring bees, paper forests and woven words. A story is just beginning. So if you’ve got a story inside you, check out moontrug’s Story Hunting tips – or nip down to your local art gallery and get inspired. You never know what’s waiting for you there…

 

Take a word for a walk… writing tips from the Children’s Laureate

Some days stories just happen.  They pop into your mind, nibble at your thoughts and then BAM! your pen is dancing all over the page.  And then there are the other days.  The days of nothingness – the days of blank paper and furious blinking.  Here are three top tips from Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, to avoid those days – because sometimes all you need to write a brilliant story is just a little nudge.

 

1. Take a word for a walk

flying fish

Think of a word – any word. Let’s start with the word ‘imagination.’ Then think of this word as an animal. Write down what animal it would be. Perhaps a flying fish or a silver fox? Then think of this word as a food. A sparkly skittle? Next think of it as a wish. The ability to fly? So here’s what happened when moontrug took ‘imagination’ for a walk:

 

Animal: flying fish
Food: skittle
Wish: to fly
Colour: blue and sparkly
Sound: a whisper
Taste: tangy
Smell: fresh air
Mode of Transport: a space hopper

 

As soon as the word ‘space hopper’ was down on the page, moontrug went on to write a short story which opened with a boy bouncing on a space hopper. You never know what’s going to inspire you! So start taking words for a walk… Moontrug took ‘the sea’ for a walk after ‘imagination’ and it looked a little something like this:

 

Animal: rhino charging
Food: entire tubs of vanilla icecream
Wish: to be invisible
Colour: pale grey
Sound: cymbals clashing
Taste: peppery
Smell: earthy
Mode of Transport: a dirt bike

 

2. I am watching you…

music

Sometimes music is a great tool for inspiring magical thoughts. Malorie Blackman got moontrug writing a very creepy story using a song called Lux Aeterna (‘eternal light’) by Clint Mansell. Here’s how. Start by writing this sentence on a blank piece of paper: ‘I am watching you’. Play this song. Now write – whatever comes into your head. With a song like that, you’re bound to write something creepy…

 

3. Is that an arm bone?

arm bone

Root around you house for an object which is slightly unusual. Malorie Blackman gave moontrug an arm bone (not her own). The object can be anything: a velvet glove, an old notebook, a wig… Imagine who might have owned this object once upon a time. Imagine why. Imagine their story. With Blackman’s arm bone, moontrug ended up imagining an old woman called The Bone-Gatherer who lived in a house surrounded by bones. She thought the bones would keep out the evil spirits but the bones were just a way for them to climb in…

 

So have a go with Blackman’s writing tips. You never know – one minute you might be taking a word for a walk, the next you might be on page 34 of the next Harry Potter.

After the car broke down… we met Malorie Blackman

‘Nah, we won’t bother with the train,’ I say to my friend. ‘If we’re going on an adventure to Winchester we should take the car. That way we can bring as much luggage as we want and we don’t have to lug it places.’ Reluctantly, my friend agrees. And so at 7am on Saturday morning we are standing in front of my car, a sorry little scrap of metal that has been spray painted green and keyed with a smiley face.

 

carA little bit like this one…

I swagger round to the front of my car and zap my electronic key towards the doors. They do not open. I try the boot. It does not budge. I insert the key manually into the driver’s door and it opens. But none of the other doors do, even after I’ve climbed into the back seats and tried them from the inside. ‘You reckon it’s going to start?’ my friend asks. ‘Sure,’ I say, and shove her in through the driver’s door, pushing her over the hand-break onto the passenger seat. We jam all our luggage through the gap in between the front seats and then I slot the key into the engine. Nothing happens. I press lots of buttons I’ve never seen before. Still nothing happens. ‘Battery’s flat,’ I say. ‘Yes,’ says my friend. And we lug all of our extra luggage out of the car, across London, over the platform and onto the train…

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Hours later we are sitting in an auditorium at Winchester University at the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, waiting for possibly the biggest name in children’s books today to walk out onto the stage. She’s written over 60 books, won more than 15 awards and has recently been named our Children’s Laureate: Malorie Blackman. Most famous for her fantastic dystopian series Noughts & Crosses, Malorie is here today to talk about what it means to write ‘from the heart’.

 

{17C35825-10AC-4625-BED4-4FE173C9C1C9}Img100Click here to buy it on amazon

 

Blackman tells us that she started writing as a child. Her diary was an outpouring of emotions, as well as a place to let things go, like her parent’s divorce which happened when she was 13. She wrote – because she knew no-one would read it. But later she would learn just how many of her childhood memories she’d use in her books: ‘In Noughts & Crosses, Callum’s life is often built around my own buried experiences,’ Blackman tells us. Callum is a Nought – an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses. Sephy is a Cross – the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country. In their hostile world, Noughts and Crosses don’t mix. But when Sephy and Callum’s childhood friendship grows into passionate love, they’re determined to find a way to be together.

 

Malorie Blackman  June 2008

 

‘A lot of myself and my experiences went into that book, like the time I bought a First Class ticket on a train and the ticket inspector accused me of stealing it. Or the History lesson where I asked the teacher why he never talked about any black inventors or black politicians and he said there weren’t any… I began to draw on my angry feelings as a teenager. I could have gone two ways as a child and I used this idea in my book Thief! – the story of a girl, Lydia, who is accused of a crime she didn’t commit. She runs away to the Yorkshire moors and is knocked out by a moor pony. She wakes up 30 years later to discover a tyrant is ruling over her hometown, only this tyrant is unsettlingly similar to herself…’

 

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Blackman has the whole auditorium on the edge of their seats. It’s clear this Children’s Laureate is one inspirational lady (even if she did trip up the stairs on her way to collect a Bafta for Best Children’s Drama for Pig Heart Boy). Yes, she’s an incredibly successful author with awards and best-sellers to her name (Noughts & Crosses is up on Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower) but it’s Blackman’s determination and resilience that really stand out – and this boldness shines through in every one of her books. In her own words, ‘When life knocks you down, keep getting up.’

 

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