Ali Sparkes and a Sparkling Talk at the Local Library

ali sparkes out of this worldI’ve just seen the fabulous Ali Sparkes give a talk at our local library and….WOW! That’s how an author talk should be done!

Ali writes for children, and she was funny, informative, and engaging. I won’t give away her ‘trade secrets’, but she has quite a few clever props, some for fun, some to illustrate her points, and a final magician’s trick for the end of the talk, which brought some real gasps from her audience.

I might have to make library visits one day, (though I’d have to finish a book first!) so here’s what I picked up from Ali’s talk.

  • Engage the audience in the first few minutes. Ali had us responding to cue cards straight away, and it really got us in the mood.
  • Keep the audience involved. Ali asked questions, she called people up to help, and she used props throughout the talk to keep us interested.
  • Choice of readings. Ali chose a couple of really fun passages from her books, and these were spread out in the talk, but gave a real insight into what to expect if we read her stories. She put a lot of expression into it, but I suspect she’s a natural performer!
  • Be funny. Well, there again, you’re either funny or you’re not – but it certainly helps!
  • End on a high. The magician’s trick. We were ALL impressed, mums and dads too!

And what about writing advice? The talk was aimed at children, but the main message is clear. Don’t give up. Her work was rejected for years, but she kept writing and submitting. She got close a few times, only to be rejected at the last minute, but she kept writing. She was finally published in 2006, and has written 40 books since then!

We’ve never read her books, but on the basis of this talk, I think we’ve missed out. We bought ‘Out of this World’  yesterday, and now that it’s signed, my daughters can fight over who gets to read it first.

The talk was part of the summer reading challenge, which we’ve always taken, but this year… well, to be honest, the girls read longer books now, and the reading challenge would be a bit like Nanowrimo – all about quantity rather than quality. I’m sure they could pick six books to read, but they’d be chosen for their brevity to meet the six week deadline. I’d rather they read a few ‘bigger’ books slowly.

This is the third author talk I’ve attended at the library, and though I’m an aspiring writer I’ve never hovered around afterwards to ask insightful questions, or chat with the ‘proper’ author.  (Actually, I think there were two ‘proper’ authors in the room, I think I spotted Kate Kelly, in the audience, who’s blog I’ve followed for a while.)

I didn’t hover around for a chat this time either, I wish I was the sort of person who could do that though – just walk up and introduce myself, and start chatting about the writing process.

But is that the right thing to do? What’s the social etiquette for collaring authors after talks? Should you save that for conferences?

What do you think?


First official day of the summer hols!

(Weekends don’t count, apparently).

We’re not going away this year – too much to do and spend on the house – but this first day has gone pretty well so far.

I’ve got two girls and a dog to entertain, and I really love having them around, and miss them like crazy when they go back to school.


I’ve distanced myself from half the women I know. The split seems to be 50/50 between those dreading the kids being off for 6 weeks, and those loving it!  And I’m firmly in Team Loving It (sounds vaguely like a popular fast food – oops).

First things first – a nice long walk with the dog, and boy, it’s hot out there. And then with one happy, exhausted mutt bedded down for the morning, we headed into town for the thing we do every year – the library challenge. This year it’s called Story Lab, but the challenge is the same – read 6 books over the summer.

Horrid Henry, Eva Ibbotson, Ellen Renner

Youngest daughter picked out a varied bunch of books, including 2 Horrid Henry’s, 2 Eva Ibbotson’s , Ellen Renner’s Castle of Shadows (recommended by me), and an interactive crime novel, by Karen King, with podcasts giving extra clues.   I’m intrigued by the interactive book, it strikes me as a clever balance between reading and technology, but my opinion doesn’t count – we will see what Youngest makes of it*.

Now, Eldest daughter has taken a different route entirely. We’re extremely fortunate that our local library lends ebooks, and she wants to try it out. She’s doubly lucky that her iPad is compatible with the Overdrive system the library employs, (seems like the Kindle, which Youngest and I both own, is not). I’m sure the selection isn’t huge, but Eldest didn’t want to take any tree books home with her on this trip.

Next stop was the park. Every kind of park life was on display; youngsters paddling in the fountain; teenagers skateboarding, and meeting up with friends; office workers soaking up the sun with their packed lunches; organised mums with happy, shiny children sitting down on picnic mats; and elderly couples taking in the scene on park benches.

I grabbed a coffee, Youngest paddled in the fountain, and Eldest climbed a tree.

Victorian park, Borough Gardens

And then we walked home for lunch.

Because I am not one of those organised mums with a picnic blanket.

Still, it’s only the first day.

I can always get better.


*  Update: the  podcasts are ‘well cool’, apparently, but ‘they kind of disrupt the flow of your reading’.