Monday 25 April 2016

Authors and money– Panama anyone? Moira Butterfield

A practical ‘author housekeeping’ blog today, folks. I’m assuming that, just for once, you don’t need my advice on rhythm, rhyme, teddy bear usage etc.

Instead I’d like to comment on the news this week.

“What?” I hear you say. “Has this blog changed tack? She’ll be mentioning celebrity shenanegins in a minute!”

Don’t worry. I have no intention of revealing the many secret shocking things I know about famous people. 

It was the Panama leaks that got me thinking, specifically the news that the Duchess of York had some sort of hidden offshore company to store the earnings of her ‘Little Red’ picture books. 
Er…I can’t remember them, to be honest, but nice to hear she made a few quid, if she did. 

(Aside - You never know with newspaper reports that celebs have earned loads from writing. Occasionally I’m told such reports might have a tiny touch of PR and therefore may not be entirely accurate…).  

But anyway, the papers went on to describe the Duchess’s finances as ‘chaotic’, so that is more proof that she’s a creative professional, surely! Bless.

But we really mustn’t be chaotic, people. Most writers are some way down the earning tree and therefore have to pay tax in the normal way, and that’s where I can help with some sage advice based on my own experience. You may spend your days having fabulous creative thoughts, but a small portion of your time must be spent getting your accounts up together if you earn money from writing. 

The UK tax people have been very interested in me over the years, and that’s good to know, isn’t it? As a self-employed author I may be a small-scale ‘sole trader’ but I could be stashing away the loot, after all. I've been tax investigated twice. On both occasions I had just had a baby and my earnings had plummeted. My accountant thought that might have triggered the investigations, though it's impossible to find out. Perhaps I was hiding earnings away in the nappy bin? They had a duty to find out. 

They could just as easily swing their never-sleeping eye over to you, and if you live in countries elsewhere I expect you have your own version of our UK tax friends.

For the first investigation I did not have investigation insurance, and it cost me £1,000 in accountancy fees. During a UK investigation you are interviewed more than once in a small room, like the sort of room you see on crime shows, and you need your accountant with you - and that costs money.

First piece of advice: In the UK you must get yourself investigation insurance if you have self-employment earnings. Check your position in other countries. You can get it from an accountant or, in the UK, from the Society of Authors if you are a member. Very weirdly, days after I wrote this blog I got an email from the SoA - if you want to go on their scheme for next year and you are a member you have to join by April 27th and it costs £12. 

Second piece of advice: You must keep your author earnings accounts up together and, unless you keep really accurate weekly records of all your incomings and outgoings, keep your work earnings separate from your personal spending accounts in some way. In the UK the tax investigator will want to look at work accounts going back five years, and all your personal accounts, too. If you can’t separate the two easily it gets complicated. I do keep mine entirely separate, and it was still complicated. You must account for every payment that has gone into your personal account going back five years. Unless you can prove otherwise it can be assumed to be work earnings you failed to declare. In other words, if Grandma once gave you a birthday cheque, for example, you may have to prove it came from her.  

If you live in other countries, you may not get these investigations, but I'm sure the advice still holds true - Keep your work accounts tidy. 

The thorough UK taxman did catch me breaking the rules.

In the first investigation he found one thing wrong - a packet of Opal Fruits and a £4.50 toy golf set on a petrol receipt that I had put through my accounts. I was rightly given a telling-off.

In the second investigation the tax lady said I’d claimed too much for travel because ‘writers don’t go out’, and though I’d recently written a series of round-Britain history books she wasn't having it so I was fined a small amount.  If I wanted to argue, she pointed out, she would take it upon herself to fine me for an assumed five years of over-claimed travel. So best not to. I can't tell you how much travel UK authors are actually allowed to put into their accounts, by the way. Nobody can tell you. It's up to a tax investigator to judge. Perhaps I should have offered mine an Opal Fruit...

So listen up. If you want to stay calm enough to write, you must keep evidence of your earnings in perfect order, ready for anyone to see. 

Don’t neglect this dull and tedious side of writing.

Unless your assets are offshore, in which case don't worry. You can do what the **** you like.   

Moira Butterfield 

Latest picture books: 
The 'Everybody Feels..." series by QED 
I Saw a Shark - Ginger Fox 

Monday 18 April 2016

Writing Away (or Going Away to Write) by Malachy Doyle

 I'm lucky, me. I have a study.

I also have a writing hut.

But I still find that some of the best ideas happen when I’m away.

When I started writing, over 20 years ago now, I went on a week-long course at Ty Newydd. It’s on the Lleyn Peninsula in Wales - and it’s a wonderful place to write. 

The tutors were Kevin Crossley-Holland and Valerie Bloom and they were both fantastically encouraging. ‘You’ve got it, Malachy,’ they said. ‘Now go home and do it!’

So I did. And two of the stories I was working on that week became books (The Football Ghosts, 11 years later, and The Snuggle Sandwich, 14 years later!)

A year after that I got a bursary from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and spent it on a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, County Monaghan.  Another superb place to write.

Three of the stories I was working on that week became books - Una and the Sea-Cloak, The King of the Birds and Moya, The Luck Child.

These days, when I go away, it’s generally to help other people write. I’ve been back to Ty Newydd many times, running courses, including with both Kevin and Valerie.   

I’ve also led residential courses at Annaghmakerrig and at all three of the Arvon centres across England – courses for schoolchildren and for adults. It’s great to give back, to encourage, to inspire, to help people find their voice… And it’s wonderful to discover the occasional just-about-fully-formed-but-didn't-yet-know-it writer to whom you can say, ‘You’ve got it! Now go home and do it!’

At the Totleigh Barton Arvon centre in Devon I was teaching a new writer for children, Anthea Simmons. She wrote her first picture book story ‘Share!’ there. It’s gone on to be published in many languages, and already has two sequels.

 In the same place, on a course I taught with Vivian French, we helped a new and very exciting young writer by the name of Michelle Robinson find her picture-book voice. (She's been known to lurk hereabouts.)   

And just the other day I heard from the illustrator Guy Parker-Rees that a character he developed on an Arvon course I was teaching a while back has not only become a book, but has sold to Brown Bag films for development as an animation series.

Running courses helps my own writing too. I generally sit in on the sessions of my co-tutors, often finding myself inspired to write things I’d never have written at home. I was recently teaching an Arvon schools course with Sheena Wilkinson, a fellow Northern Irish writer, and wrote a story in one of her sessions (in fifteen minutes flat, as you do!) that, fingers crossed, will soon be a picture book.

So, yes, I’m a big fan of writing courses and of the idea of going away to write. It's a excellent way to shift gear, to see things differently, to try a new approach or a whole new genre and to find the confidence to follow where it leads...

And if anyone’s tempted, I’m leading one at The Hurst (the newly-refurbished and delightful Arvon centre in Shropshire) at the end of May.

It’s a Tutored Retreat, so rather than running workshops, I’ll be available all week, with my co-tutor, the very excellent Narinder Dhami, to help you with your writing. Whatever you’re working on – from picture books to young adult, it’ll be a great place to find inspiration, to write and to develop as a writer. And maybe, hopefully, like me, you’ll get a book or two out of it. Arvon tell me there are still some places left, and that there's a possibility of bursaries for those who can’t afford the full fee. Oh, and our special guest on the Wednesday night is the superb Geraldine McCaughrean – not to be missed.

So has anyone else any suggestions as to other good places to go away and write. What works for you, and why?

 Malachy's latest book is Sea Stories, published by OUP in their series
 'The Greatest Stories' (Oxford Reading Tree: Treetops), May 2016

And if anyone would like to find out more about the tutored retreat at The Hurst, go to the Arvon website:

or ring The Hurst 01588640658 (from UK), email

Monday 11 April 2016

Inspiration any time and any where - Lynne Garner

As a writer and teacher I'm always looking for new ways to fuel my own writing and ways to inspire my students. So earlier this year I decided to discover what writing related apps were available. After some time researching apps for iPhones and Android I downloaded a dozen or so. After much 'playing' I whittled my favourites down to the following three apps.  

Story Lines
Screens from 'Story Lines' 
Designed by: Magostech
Free to download from the following:
Amazon click here
iTunes click here

I love using story cubes and regularly use them to exercise my 'writing muscle' and in class to help inspire my students. The physical cubes I use in class come in packs of nine giving you 54 images. However these nine dice have ten images each, therefore offering more combinations.

To use you simply shake your phone or tablet and the dice scatter. You can then drag them into some order and lock the image. The one small issue I've found is if you don't lock the screen sometimes the dice roll so you lose the image the dice landed on for that roll. I've only used the app as a 'guest' however if you sign up you can also use the 'write story' facility.

This is a great app to have on you when you're sitting in that waiting room or on the train and want to exercise your imagination. Also after using a few times in class it's a great one to introduce to your students.

Poetry Creator
Developer: Tiny Mobile Inc.
Free to download with in app purchases

This app is fun, easy to use and really pushes the creative process. Think fridge magnet or rip it poetry. When you open the app you are supplied with a number of words on a 'board' which provides you with the starting point for your poem. These words you simply drag into place to create your poem. If you struggle there is a pull out 'drawer' (found on the right hand side of the screen) which contains additional words that you can pull into play. You can increase the number of words by going into the 'mix-tionary' and  sliding the selectors.

 You can download additional dictionaries (shown as installed on the image on the left) from here or download eight dictionaries for a special price from the menu page.

Once you've written your poem you can upload to Facebook to show off your skills, email to yourself or save to the photo album on your device. Do remember if you don't do any of these before you press the double arrow button (second icon from the right along the bottom of the screen) you lose your poem.
Unfortunately this app is only available for download onto iPhone and iPad - click here if you want to download which means I won't be able to use in class but it's definitely one I'll be adding to my handouts.

Acrostic Poems
Developer: International Reading Association
Free to download from the following:

Definition of an acrostic poem (just in case it's not one you've come across before): Is a type of poem where the first, last or other letters in a line spell out a word or phrase. The most common is where the first letters of each line spell out the word or phrase. 

As with many of the apps I've downloaded over the last couple of months I did so because I wanted to use in my creative writing sessions. So far I've used this one in three sessions. Two were with year 4 and 5 kids whilst the third session was with a group of students who were 60 plus. All three sessions were (thankfully) a success. 

The first screen asks you to enter your name and then the theme/word you wish to use as the basis for your acrostic poem. When you pick your theme you're limited to 14 characters which includes any spaces and it doesn't include a spell checker, so take care as you type. Your next step is to brainstorm ten words that link with your theme.

Once you've completed this step simply start to create your poem using the words generated during your brainstorming session. When you've completed your poem, checked your spelling you can save it, share via email or print it off. If you forget to do any of these and click on 'new poem' you are told that the poem will be lost and you're given the chance to save your work.

Having seen students use this app in class it's another I'll be adding to my handouts when I update them next. It's also given me a few ideas for new stories which are now safely stored in OneNote.  

I hope you've found these reviews helpful and if you've used any writing related apps you've enjoyed using please do share below.


Now for a blatant plug - don't say I didn't warn you:

My latest short story collection Coyote Tales Retold is available on Amazon in ebook format. Also available Meet The Tricksters a collection of 18 short stories featuring Anansi the Trickster Spider, Brer Rabbit and Coyote is available as a paper back and an ebook. 

I run the following online courses for Women On Writing:
How to write A children's book and get published
5 picture books in 5 weeks
How to write a hobby-based how to book

Monday 4 April 2016

Picture books that made me pause (for good, bad and surprising reasons) - Paeony Lewis

I read a lot of picture books and occasionally something will make me pause. This might be a good pause, a bad pause, or a surprised pause. It all depends on what has caught my attention. Here are a few of my picture-book ‘pauses’ (good, bad and surprising). Perhaps you wouldn’t have paused for some, though I bet many of you would pause at the third one. But first...

PAUSE 1: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illus by Christian Robinson

I’ll begin with the book that gave me the idea for this blog post. Only published in 2015, Last Stop on Market Street has received an outstanding number of book awards in the USA, so I felt compelled to order a copy (I’m a bit of a pushover). When it arrived I opened the book and paused at the first sentence: CJ pushed through the church doors and skipped down the steps.
From Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson (G P Putnam's Sons, 2015)

I wonder if some of you think it's weird that I paused? For me in the UK, it was the mention of the church doors in a mainstream picture book. Of course we all interpret books to reflect our beliefs, but in this book it’s clear the grandmother and child have been to Sunday church.

After my surprised ‘pause’, I realised it could be a cultural difference between the UK and USA. In the UK, I don't think it's usual for contemporary picture books to overtly include Christianity unless the books are specifically religious. Also, UK publishers rely on overseas editions and I suspect that makes them cautious. So although the message in the excellent Last Stop on Market Street is one of finding beauty in less obvious places, it’s so specifically a story set in urban America, with the speech cadence of a specific community, that perhaps it’s a story that doesn’t travel well outside the USA? Or perhaps you think I'm nuts?!

PAUSE 2: Croc and Bird by Alexis Deacon

Cute animals are sooooo cute. We adore them in picture books. So it was a refreshing surprise to discover the baby bird in Croc and Bird was, well, how can I say this… Not cute. This book is about being true to yourself and the people who matter, and is one of my favourites (and sometimes I still pause and grin).

From Croc and Bird by Alexis Deacon (Hutchinson 2012)

Now we come to the third book. A  bad ‘pause’ (in my opinion).

PAUSE 3: The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright

When my daughter was young I spied this on the picture-book shelves of a mainstream bookshop. I thought the use of photography was interesting, so I bought it. I think I only read it once to my daughter. ‘Disturbing’ is the word I’d use. I know it was first produced in 1957 and that was a different time, but then it was reprinted in 1985, and again in 1998. The text on the page that made me pause reads:
"I may be a silly," Mr. Bear answered, "but I know when a naughty little girl needs a spanking." Little Bear couldn't watch. He was afraid his turn was next.

And yes, Little Bear gets a spanking too in the next image. Nuff said.

From The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright 

PAUSE 4: The Three Robbers by Tomi Unigerer

This is another picture book that gave me a bad, shocked ‘pause’ when the robbers blew pepper dust at the frightened horses. However, when I finished the book I had a rethink. The robbers do terrible things, but is redemption possible? I’m not comfortable with the book, but I suspect it’s not meant to be ‘liked’; it’s meant to make adults and older children think about redemption. It was first published in German in 1963, then reissued in 2008 (Phaidon).
The text with the image below reads: To stop carriages, the robbers blew pepper dust in the horses' eyes.

Image from The Three Robbers by Tomi Unigerer

PAUSE 5: Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan

Cover of Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan
(Box of Tales Publishing House, 2012)

Here’s another book that could get us all thinking and I ‘paused’ several times. It's Syrian and currently only in Arabic (though my copy included two separate sheets with the text translated into English). On the surface this picture book is about a family coping with living in a city that has become dangerous and scary. Parts of the story and illustrations are darker than the picture books we’re used to seeing in the UK, but even in the UK not all children live in safe neighbourhoods and most catch glimpses of the TV news.

Image from Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan
At first I questioned why the story didn't include the word 'war'. Nadine Kaadan (who has lived in the UK since 2012) explained that back in 2011, when she began the story, Syrians like herself didn’t believe the fighting around them was a ‘war’. They thought it would soon be over. Sadly not. 

Now I’ve thought more about the story, I can see it has a wider appeal by not specifically mentioning war. The ambiguity works well. For example, it could also be seen as coping with a depressed parent, or coping with living in an unsafe environment, or simply coping with not being allowed outside to play. Don't worry, there is a positive, uplifting ending.

PAUSE 6: The Yes by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura

As the owner of cute picture books by Satoshi Kitamura (eg the Comic Adventures of Boots), I experienced a surprised ‘pause’ when I discovered his illustrations in The Yes (Andersen Press, 2015). For me it was a good surprise because the images are innovative for picture books. Some of the pictures are almost semi abstract, though always understandable and always interesting.

PAUSE 7: The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bentley and Mei Matsuoka

From The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bentley and Mei Matsuoka
Another from Andersen Press (2010). I definitely paused when I came to this double-page spread. I was flabbergasted, bemused and then giggled. What more can I say?! Well I could tell you the text and then you might understand: So as they went in - every dog, pooch and pup -They took off their bottoms and hung them all up. Hundreds and hundreds of little pink 'o's All neatly arranged in methodical rows.

PAUSE 8: Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith

When I’m in a bookshop I read a lot of picture books. Some I skim and some I read (and some I even buy - honestly!). So whilst in a bookshop I began to flick through Hector and Hummingbird (Alison Green Books, 2015) because I liked the colours and contemporary-retro illustrations, and then I paused. The snippets I'd read made me smile so much, I returned to the beginning and read it all through. It’s not often I come across such charming fun (it’s about coping with an annoying, overly chatty friend). A delightful ‘pause’ and a gentle place to finish my list.

I've had many more picture book 'pauses' but I think I've prattled on enough. Perhaps you’ll let me know your good, bad and surprising ‘pauses’?

Paeony Lewis