Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent has caused a stir by saying she will no longer review books that are specifically aimed at girls or boys.

She’s cited the example of The Beautiful Girls colouring in book (pink, cover, you’d never have guessed) versus The Brilliant Boys Colouring In Book (cover, guess what – blue).

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunchly equal opps mum and personally I would never buy my daughter any book that was about being gorgeous instead of doing brilliant. Because that’s the difference isn’t it?  Being praised for what you passively are as opposed to achieving praise for what you’re actively doing.

For this reason, my daughter and I have not spent a lot of time watching teensy-waisted Disney princesses pout across the screen either, but I have to admit, even those cartoon girlies have both wised up and toughened up over the years.

But, here’s ‘the but’: I do write books that are (mainly) for girls. Although I’d love boys to read Cross My Heart because it’s about a fascinating time in history, very brave teenagers (male and female) and it’s action packed and gripping – sadly, I don’t think they will because there’s a girl on the cover and she’s the central figure.

Men won’t read books with women on the cover or even written by women. Why do you think JK, PD and so many others went for initials not their full names?

No man or boy wants to be caught with a feminine book – that’s not my fault, or the publishers fault, that is the fault of every single man or boy who will mock him for reading it.

But my Secrets at St Jude’s series is definitely for girls. And it has pink and purple and glitter on the cover to shout that out loud and proud. It’s about a girl gang of friends sharing secrets, experiences and yes, having adventures. It’s a girls’ only space set at a girls’ only school. And I absolutely defend the right of girls to have girl space and girl time to explore their feelings, experiences and compare and interact with one another rather than with boys. Because the boy characters aren’t central in this series, I think it allows girls to explore all the elements of their characters. They can be brave and adventurous and proud and jealous and none of these feeling is labelled as ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish’.

Interestingly, at girl only schools, more girls choose to do Maths and Science subjects all the way up the school than at mixed schools: surely because the subjects aren’t labelled as male or female?

Do more boys study fashion and home economics at a boys only school?! Ermmm… I don’t think so.

cupcake

I truly believe there is space on the bookcase for every kind of author:

the girlie book writers like Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson,

the very boysie book creators, like Anthony Horowitz and Robert Muchamore, plus the authors who appeal to both boys and girls: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins.

We should let children find their own way through the books on offer. If your girl wants to read the whole Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider adventure series, great, if your boys are dipping into Jacqueline Wilson to explore the many emotional issues she raises with her stories, fantastic.

Reading is about examining every kind of thought, feeling, adventure, reaction and emotion from the safety of your armchair. That’s why it’s so mind expanding and often mind blowing.

I have a son and a daughter and I try my absolute best to bring them up totally even-handedly.

I want them to be in touch with every part of their personalities: the tender, the tough, the caring, the determined… not to shut any kind of feeling off, which is surely what sexist conditioning encourages us to do.

My children read widely, widely, widely. But there is a definite preference. My son loves books packed with travel, fascinating facts, sci fi, even engineering tips. He read chapter one of the lovely Fault In Our Stars and put it down forever, declaring: ‘This is so depressing, no way am I reading this.’

But my daughter loves books that are a really emotional journey. Michael Morpurgo is up there in her top five authors and oh my goodness, Meg Rosoff made her cry. The baby goat scene… the baby goat…

My boy likes more factual books, my girls likes emotional ones. Is this conditioning? Is this society? Is this natural? Does this just coincide with the way girls and boys develop?

Publishers use their covers to prime the reader. A figure running across a landscape says a spine-tingling action adventure. A cuddly kitten promises cosy comforting animal read with a happy ending.

I think it’s far more acceptable for a girl to read about and to do challenging physical adventurous things than it is for a boy to read about or do nurturing, emotional or tender things. We have the Daring Book for Girls but no Caring or Sharing Book for Boys. That’s something we all need to think about.

The fact that women are still doing most of the cooking and the housework right here in the 21st century suggests that maybe we should be calling for cupcake themed colouring-in books for boys.

Thank God for Jamie Oliver who should be sainted for the single-handed work he’s done to make cooking laddish. He taught my husband to cook and I have bought almost every single one of his books as a thank you.

The machismo culture for boys, featuring games which make it ok to run women over with your car are surely a much bigger problem than pink covered books for girls.

I mean for goodness sake, sometimes after a tiring day studying maths, physics, and running up and down the football pitch, a girl just wants to colour in a cupcake. OK?!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews for Cross My Heart | A BIG thank you

Dear book bloggers and reader reviewers, WOW, thank you so much, really and truly, for your amazing response to Cross My Heart.

Every single one of these reviews has absolutely made my day, over and over again.

Writing is a damn lonely job and of course I spend great long stretches of my time wondering: ‘Will anyone like this story?’ ‘Will anyone care about these characters even half as much as I do?’

So to every lovely reader who fell in love with Nicole and absolutely rooted for her to get through the ordeals she faces in this story – thank you!

Here are links to some of the wonderful book blogs (all worth a read, all packed with really interesting stuff) who’ve taken the time and trouble to read Cross My Heart and spread the love.

If I’ve missed your blog out and you’d like me to mention you, please just drop me a line CLICK HERE.

IT WAS LOVELY READING YOU

BOOKS MONTHLY

READERAPTOR

FABULOUS BOOK FIEND

OVERFLOWING LIBRARY

BOOKS WITH BUNNY

QUEEN OF CONTEMPORARY

GOODREADS

The Ravensbruck dilemma | Writing about torture and concentration camps for children

Ravensbruck women prisoners
Inmates of Ravensbruck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest scenes to write in Cross My Heart were the scenes where Nicole is tortured and then imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I’ve read a great deal about how Resistance prisoners were treated in prison and it’s brutal and terrible. They were beaten, cruelly hurt and fingernail pulling, branding with hot irons and all kinds of unspeakable treatment was routine.

I’ve also read as much as I could bear about the concentration camps all over Germany and Poland and Ravensbruck (ravens bridge): the camp for women only which features in the story.

How to translate the fear, cruelty and inhumaneness for younger readers was a challenge. I didn’t want to terrorise or terrify my readers, but neither did I want to censor the inhumanity.

15 YEAR OLD IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP

So I’ve sort of glimpsed at the awfulness. I’ve tried to put myself into the mind of a young person and imagined looking at it all between the chinks in my fingers. I hope, as a reader you’ll realise you are getting a hint of how dreadful it was, you’re learning as much as you can bear. Maybe you’ll find out more when you’re older, but this is enough for now.

I’ve put Nicole, who is 15 into prison and then into a concentration camp. I’ve also put younger children into the prison and the camp too. Hope’s son, Pascal, is threatened with torture in front of her.

In one early draft of the story, he was branded with hot iron, but my editor and I decided this was too awful for a children’s story. I wish I could say I made the child torture up, but I’m afraid it’s inspired by a Nuremberg trial document in which a French resistance witness says he saw a boy being tortured in front of his mother to make her talk.

Children of all ages were kept in Ravensbruck camp. What happened to them is a catalogue of dreadfulness which I couldn’t tell in a story for younger readers. So in Cross My Heart, Nicole finds Ettie, a childhood friend, in the camp. And Ettie is living a tolerable life there, because she sees it all from a child’s point of view and somehow finds a playful element to sustain her. Plus, she is there with her mother, who loves her more than anything.

DINNER WITH MOTHER

Ettie and the other children in the camp play this game in the evenings which they call ‘dinner with mother.’ I read about this in an amazing interview (sorry, I am searching through my notebooks for the link… will post asap) with a woman who was a young teenager when she was put into a camp with her younger sister.

In the evening, they would remind themselves of all the wonderful meals they’d eaten at home. They’d recall the food, the menus and the flavours and use these very happy memories to sustain themselves through their hunger and misery.

As soon as I read about this game, I knew this is what the children in my story would do as it’s one of those details that feels true and authentic, so it brings the story to life.

Happily, these Polish sisters were allowed to escape from a death march by a German solider who told them to run into the woods and hide. They were taken in by Russian soldiers and finally made their way back to their home village, amazed to find their house and several relatives still there.

 

Cross My Heart | A story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope

 

For everyone who’s been wanting to know what I’m doing next… here it is, curtain up moment… the heartbreakingly lovely cover of my new book: Cross My Heart.

Yes. Gasp! It’s quite a change. No pink, no sparkles, no adventures in fashion-land… this is the story of a 15 year old girl who joins the Belgian Resistance in 1940 during the Nazi occupation.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a love story. It’s a story of extraordinary courage, endurance and hope.

I am so proud of it. I have worked my socks off on it for over a year and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. It has been lovingly researched, something I enjoyed immensely.

I’ve always been totally fascinated by the Second World War, especially with the women’s and the girls’ stories.

The teenagers who served in the Resistance were unbelievably brave. They faced torture and execution every day. They had to make incredibly difficult decisions especially if their bombs risked civilians. But they were still teenagers: they fell in and out of love, they argued with their best friends, hung out in cafes, gossiped, had problems with their families.

More about this story soon, I’m compiling a blog of all the research sites and books I’ve used.

Cross My Heart comes out in August. It’s written for readers from age 11 plus, but I think anyone who wants to read a really gripping story of young love and unforgettable courage from this era will LOVE it.

Here’s the taster from the back of the book.

How far would you go for freedom?

Would you lie to your family?

Break up with your best friend?

Follow the boy you love into extreme danger?

Risk your life?

It’s 1940, Europe is at war and Nicole’s home city has been invaded by the Nazis. When she joins a secret group of freedom fighters, she learns that 15 is not too young to fire a gun, plant a bomb, face capture, torture and heartbreak and put your life on the line.

Inspired by real people, real places and real events.

Take care, girls with phones

 Fireman Sam

The fire safety officer came to visit my daughter’s school yesterday. She made me hoot with laughter re-telling the best moments of the visit and she passed on some actually pretty essential fire prevention advice.

Every girl with a phone needs to read on!

First, the class was asked if anyone had been involved in a fire. Two children had and both blazes involved burning things falling out of the fireplace and setting the carpet alight. In one incident it was a board game that had been tossed onto the fire… hmmmm…. Monopoly by any chance? That frequently ends in a blood bath at our house.

One boy confessed that when he was four, he was watching Fireman Sam on TV showing how to call the fire brigade… so he decided to try it. He picked up the receiver, dialled 999, asked for Fire and told them there was a fire. The brigade duly arrived and Broke Down The Door of Their House. Daddy was apparently not very pleased.

Next, the safety officer asked the class what they should do if they were trapped by fire in an upstairs room. One girl answered: ‘Throw everything out of the window to make a soft landing and jump?’

At this, the officer smacks his forehead and asks: ‘Where did you learn that? Disneyland?’ Lots of laughter.

 

Shout Fire!

The real answer is shut the door, block off any gaps smoke can get through, open the window and shout ‘FIRE!’ because apparently ‘HELP’ will be ignored by most passers by. Charming.

Here’s the grim news. The number one cause of house fires these days – now that not so many people are sharing cigarettes in bed on nylon sheets – is leaving your phone charging beside your bed!!!!!

The most common victim of this kind of fire? Lovely, chatty, popular girls who don’t want to miss a text/ post/ tweet.

I know, I was utterly traumatised. We often have everyone in the family going to sleep beside their charging phone. So, this blog is actually a public safety broadcast. Charge your phones before bedtime, then switch them off and sleep safe and sound.

And never throw your Monopoly board into the fire, no matter how annoying it is to land on Park Lane with four houses and one hotel AGAIN.

Pink books for girls, blue for boys?

CR_Books_SJ_Party_girl_160x214pxmuch pic

The children’s book reviewer on The Independent ha