Building Bird Feeders at Pickled Pepper Books

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This morning I was at Pickled Pepper Books reading from Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!). It was so lovely to meet lots of young readers and introduce them to the new characters from the book.

We then got to work making bird feeders for all the pigeons of Crouch End and the bird feeder designs I saw today were excellent.

Here are a few pictures of some of the bird feeders created today:

Thank you so much to all the children and parents who came along and made such birdrilliant bird feeders and HUGE thanks to Urmi and the staff at Pickled Pepper Books who were the loveliest hosts.

The Bookmark Project is live

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You might remember a post, earlier on this year, about the 1st Burley-in-Wharfedale Brownies who were raising money for Katiyo Primary School in Zimbabwe by auctioning off one-of-a-kind bookmarks designed by authors, illustrators and book lovers; well, the auction has just gone live!

Now is your chance to bid on my one-off, signed, original bookmark ‘Clive’.

You’ll be raising money for an amazing cause and Clive the Bookmark will be a happy to do his best bookmarking in reminding you which page you’ve reached to in your current read. Do get involved and if you do, hugest thanks and hugs from me for supporting this brilliant project.

The auction is only open for the next NINE days so get bidding and good luck!

Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) at Pickled Pepper Books

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Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) has landed at Pickled Pepper Books and taken over one of their beautiful windows. To coincide with my crafts event on Saturday 20th May at the bookshop, the lovely Urmi allowed me free rein of the window and of course I went all Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) with it.

First up was the lettering…

…Then in went Skipper’s trusty typewriter, alongside a couple of Sheena Dempsey’s gorgeously illustrated pigeons…

…We finished off the window with a giant cover of the book and more of Sheena’s lovely pigeons perched on a washing line.

That’s me, looking mighty proud of the finished window.

If you would like to have a look at the window, pop by Pickled Pepper Books in the next week and a half and do join us for a Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!) inspired story time and crafts session on Saturday 20th May from 11 am. Further details about the event are available directly from Pickled Pepper Books.


Roosting with the Dagenham pigeon fanciers

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I’m finishing up writing the third Dave Pigeon book, ‘Dave Pigeon (Racer!)‘ and Sheena has just finished the cover, (which I have seen, by the way, and it is MAGNIFICENT and we cannot wait to reveal that to you all in the next few months).

One of my favourite bits of the writing process is the research. Now I know what you’re thinking, I sit around all day in my pyjamas and write whatever’s rolling around in my head and to some extent that’s true, but the key to making a story readable is to make sure some element of it is believable and that’s when the research comes in.

In ‘Dave Pigeon‘, Dave and Skipper type up their story on a typewriter. Well, did you know that pigeons can be taught to read the alphabet? True fact.

In ‘Dave Pigeon (Nuggets!)‘, Dave and Skipper meet a secret agent spy pigeon, and did you know in the two world wars, pigeons were taught to fly messages across from camp to camp as it was one of the fastest ways to get messages across the warring nations? Also a true fact.

So despite the books being fiction, an element of research and reality does go into my writing. (Another a true fact.)

Last night, I had my research hat on and I left my writing desk to visit Dagenham Trades Hall Flying Club where the club’s pigeon fanciers had gathered to prepare for a pigeon race. We met Steve from the Royal Pigeon Racing Association who gave us a run through of what it is like for a racing pigeon.

The racing season, here in the UK, runs from April to September, with the older birds flying the first half and the younger birds flying the second half. For two to three weeks before the season, fanciers, (these are people who breed and train pigeons), exercise their pigeons and make sure they are well fed and watered, much like a professional athlete.

The day before the race the fanciers take their pigeons from their lofts down to a ‘marking station’.

Each pigeon is taken to the marking team where their ring number is checked.

A rubber band is then placed on the pigeon’s leg, which has a number corresponding to their entry form.

Pigeon racing is a big deal, so lots of precautions are taken to avoid tampering and illegal activity.

Timing clocks are synchronised, ready to collect the rubber bands on the pigeons return home.

Pigeons are placed into a crate which is then loaded onto the pigeon lorry, which will travel through the night to the site where the pigeons are released.

This is called the liberation site and can be up to 500 miles away from home. Once the pigeons are released the race is on!

When a pigeon arrives home to their loft, the rubber band is retrieved from its leg and placed into a timing clock. All the times are noted and the official results are released.

Despite the competitive nature of this sport, it was wonderful to see the comradery between the fanciers. The Dagenham group felt like a family. And it was clear to see the love they had for their pigeons. All are members of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and they follow rules to make sure pigeons were treated with the utmost care and the competition is always fair.

We had such a brilliant time with the Dagenham club and can’t thank them enough for letting us join their family for such a lovely evening of race preparation and pigeon banter. Good luck to all the pigeons flying this morning. We can’t wait to hear the results.

Dave Pigeon visits Langshott Primary, Sandcross School and Reigate Chatterbooks

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Yesterday, Team Dave Pigeon, along with Team Surrey Libraries, headed to the rolling hills of Surrey to visit pupils at Langshott Primary School. We started the morning meeting Year 3, who helped us creat new pigeons and a brand new story for Dave and Skipper.

Sheena illustrated live as the pupils wrote the story together as a team. There were buckets of butter, a skinny fit rollercoaster and a super spy pigeon called Sleek Jeffrey.

We then met with Year 4, who created a their own story, including a jetpacking tiger and flying squirrels and a cauldron for boiling pigeon eggs.

We were so impressed to see that they had been working hard on Mean Cat posters ahead of our visit and it was an absolute joy to see their finished work.

We then headed to Sandcross School where we met with some of the Year 5 pupils and created new characters including a ninja pigeon-man with a mean back swing. We also got to see the wonderful display that had been created ahead of the Surrey Libraries Book Awards ceremony.

After a whirlwind day of story building and character design what better than a glass of squash and a jammy biscuit at Reigate Library? That’s exactly where Sheena and I finished our day, in the company of the Reigate Chatterbooks Club.

We sat down for story time, a natter about what it takes to be an author and illustrator and a group drawing session together.

Thank you so much to the staff and pupils of Langshott Primary and Sandcross School. And a big thank you to the pupils of Reigate Chatterbooks and the brilliant library staff, including Ann and Tom who were wonderful hosts. We had a blast!

Chipping Norton Literary Festival School’s Day

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Dave Pigeon was off to the picturesque town of Chipping Norton for the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. As part of the festival, a day of school visits to more than thirteen schools in the local area is organised to make sure as many children in Chipping Norton get to enjoy the festival, regardless of whether they are able to attend the weekend activities.

Today, I was off to Enstone Primary school for the School’s Day visits but not before an impromptu radio interview with Phil Mercer on BBC Oxford Radio, alongside fellow author John Dougherty.

I reached Enstone Primary School and was greeted by the brilliant pupils of year one, two and three who helped me design posters for a lost Mean Cat and a brand new story of what happens to Mean Cat after she is catapulted out of a sun lounger.

In the afternoon I met with the pupils of Great Tew Primary School. They were bristling with ideas for a new story and I met many talented budding illustrators as we all shared stories of different Daves we knew.

Thank you so much to the wonderful organisers of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, including the brilliant Milly and Jenny. And a huge thank you to the staff and pupils of Enstone and Great Tew Primary Schools for making me feel so at home in your schools.

Photo (c) Jenny Aston, Silver Apples Photography

  Photo (c) Jenny Aston, Silver Apples Photography

Photo (c) Jenny Aston, Silver Apples Photography

Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival

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Sheena and I are back from a visit to Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. I have to admit I had mixed feelings when we were first approached, by our publisher, with the offer to visit the United Arab Emirates. It is no secret that opinions on attendance at literary festivals in UAE have proved divisive within the UK children’s publishing world.

The ‘Think Twice’ campaign headed up by two prominent book lovers in the book community calls for UK authors and illustrators to boycott the Emirates Festival of Literature, a Dubai government initiative, on the grounds that the sponsors of the festival violate human rights and have no regard for climate change. Whilst their campaign targets the Emirates Festival of Literature and not the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in particular, much of their agenda felt significant to our upcoming trip.

I have always felt strongly that I would try never to turn down visits to schools, libraries and festivals. Boycotting events seems, in my mind, only to serve as self-censorship. Ultimately our visits aim to bring the joy of reading, illustrating and story-writing to children, at an age when they’re developing their taste for literature and we, as authors, have a chance to help build readers for life. Whilst the ‘Think Twice’ campaign gave me food for thought, I questioned how a potential boycott would serve to vocalise my thoughts. Rather than a boycott, I wanted to see for myself what the festival was about and have an open dialogue about the very valid issues raised by the ‘Think Twice’ campaign.

We arrived in Sharjah on Tuesday and were straight off to an after school club for children at the American University of Sharjah the following day. We ran a villains illustration workshop and created a brand new story for Dave Pigeon and Skipper that took the feathery pair on an adventure through a junkyard into the lair of a killer pigeon, who was keen to eat Dave, and out through a secret tunnel into the woods.

Later that evening, Sheena joined a panel discussing the role of illustration and the importance of visual literacy, with May Tobias-Papa and Linda Abdel Latif.

It was interesting to see how the role of illustration was changing with new media, particularly as the Philippines seemed to embrace new technology for children’s literature in a way that seemed light years ahead of the UK. Worldwide there was common consensus that illustrators needed to be recognised in the same way that writers are and that there is someway to go in recognising the role of an illustrator as a co-author, especially with regard to picture books.

The next morning Sheena and I visited the Gems Millennium School in Sharjah and met the kindergarten children and the pupils of both Year One classes.

The children helped us create not one but three brand new villains before working on their own illustrations of baddies to terrify their teachers with.
I then joined Frane Lessac, Latifa Batti and Mohammed Ghobashi, back at the festival, in a panel where we discussed our books and the universal importance of passing down stories from generation to generation and creating a passion for reading by telling stories to children in a nurturing way.

Turning the pages of a book with a child, in the lap of a parent or grandparent or trusted elder, seemed to be common ground around the world for turning youngster into readers for life.

All the while the thoughts of the ‘Think Twice’ campaign churned over in my mind and the panels proved the perfect opportunity to broach an open dialogue about these issues.

Both Sheena and I talked about how shared reading allowed children to find out about a world beyond their own, to experience cultures and talk about issues of war, immigration, refugees and female empowerment in a way that felt comfortable and natural to them. All the panellists agreed that publishers should take risks in dealing with this kind of subject matter, matter that could be deemed difficult to sell, but the truth is there is a demand for these books. Reading creates empathy and what’s more, children needed and wanted to see books that reflected their current world.

This is a trip I will never forget and if I go away with one thing, it is that being in Sharjah and meeting the wonderful local people has helped to dispel a lot of myths I had about the Arab world.

Thank you so much to Sharjah Book Authority and Midas PR for such a kind invitation and for such a lovely trip.