Junior Journalists loved Bath Children’s Literature Festival!

There were three VIPs among the hundreds of children and young people who attended the 2021 Bath Children’s Literature Festival – the winners of the festival’s Junior Journalists competition. 

This hotly contested competition invites young writers to submit reviews of their favourite book to win the chance to wear a coveted Junior Journalists lanyard and report from the festival. The team of three Junior Journalists are given free tickets to events, to attend with their parents or carer, and the chance to interview some of the authors and illustrators. 

 There were three age categories, seven to nine, nine to 11 and 12 and over, all the entries being judged blind by a team of festival judges. The three winners were, Bethany Acres aged 9, Martha Tarlow, aged 10 and Lucia Ambrosi aged 13. 

 Martha and Lucia both interviewed MG Leonard, while Bethany got the chance to interview Sophy Henn, Simon Farnaby and Steven Lenton. Bethany also brought Steven’s dog Big Eared Bob a present of some doggie treats. 

 The prizewinners also received free tickets to events for themselves and their immediate families plus a bundle of new books to take home. We look forward to seeing your entries next year in the Bath Children’s Literature Festival Junior Journalists competition 2022!  

Lucia Ambrosi, 13: 

‘I was given the amazing opportunity to be a junior journalist at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival 2021. I got to go to three events, all of which I enjoyed immensely! It was a long trip to Bath, and by the time we got there a fire alarm had gone off! This meant we had to stand outside the venue for a while, so they could get it sorted. I was going to see an event from MG Leonard, author of Adventures on Trains, Twitch and Beetle Boy. She had to wait outside as well, so she talked to us and took photos. She was really nice, and I’m glad that I got this chance! 

The event was amazing, and she talked all about birds, from her trip up north to see them, to how pigeons were amazing! She told us that pigeons mate for life, and that they raise their children equally, both producing milk. She also talked about beetles, and told us a lot about how Rhinoceros beetles use their mandibles (antlers) to battle for fun.  

Afterwards, I got to interview the author. She talked about how long it usually takes to write a book, how she comes up with the ideas for them, and how interesting the research is. She always writes a ‘draft zero’, which is the first draft of the book. This is a very rough draft that she does to outline the structure, and the foundations of the book. She says that ‘everything must work towards an ending’ and all of her books have very strong endings, especially Twitch. Without spoiling anything, I will say that it is a great ending, and I highly recommend Twitch as well as all of her other books. MG Leonard also revealed she was writing more Twitch books, and she hopes for there to be four in the series, so keep your eye out!’ 

 Martha Tarlow, 10

‘M.G Leonard and Sam Sedgman were at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival to give a talk on their recently published Adventures on Trains series.  The series is about an eleven-year-old detective with artistic skills which help him spot clues. Like M. G. Leonard, he doesn’t like trains at first. But when he has to go on a train trip with his uncle Nat and solve an unexpected crime, he makes a friend who teaches him to love trains.  

I was lucky enough to be able to ask this duo a few questions before they left Bath. I was surprised by their answer to my first question when they told me that they didn’t get nervous when they shared their work. M.G Leonard said that she forgot about being nervous. In fact, she got thoroughly excited about talking and people never scare her. Sam Sedgman used to work in the National Theatre so he had experience performing.  

I ask my next question – why do you write books? Sam Sedgman launches into an explanation. He told me that writing detective books was like bringing his two favourite things together: writing and puzzles. M.G. Leonard thinks for a moment before replying. She says that she likes to write because everything has a reason in books but sometimes things don’t have a reason in life, like Covid 19.  

For my third question they shared the same opinion about what makes a good start to a book. Together they agreed that jumping into the action was the best way to begin. M.G Leonard introduces her main characters in a dramatic scene early on and says her favourite first line that she has written is in Twitch. The opening words are “Kill it!” which makes the reader think all sorts of different questions. After this compelling start you are introduced to the main character.  

When it came to my fourth question - what do you do when you don’t know what to write next? - they had different ideas. Sam Sedgman says it is easy when there are two people writing a book together, you could just ask your partner for some more ideas. He turns to M.G. Leonard for the point of view of a person who writes alone. M.G. Leonard tells me that she has no trouble with this problem because she follows a five-act structure. The first act introduces the characters, the second act starts and everything is going swimmingly, in the third act something begins to go horribly wrong, in the fourth act you hit a crisis and in the fifth act it is resolved.  

My last question brings us to a close. Together they inform me that they have already announced the name and cover of their new book (Sabotage on the Solar Express) and assure me that there will be a sixth book. Because this was the first time I had been introduced to the series, I can’t wait to start reading them all.  

 Bethany Acres9:

I was really excited to be chosen to be a Junior Journalist at this year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival. 

 I was lucky enough to interview the author/illustrators Steven Lenton and Sophy Henn, and attend their events.  

 I also went to Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates event and got to meet her afterwards. She was really funny and read an extract of the new Tom Gates book called Random Acts of Fun, which comes out in a few weeks. She had on the most fabulous fish shoes!  

 One of the things I loved about all the events I went to was the chance to draw characters and doodle! My favourite character to learn to draw was Steven Lenton’s dog, Teeny, from the book Genie and Teeny. Book two is out in October and I can’t wait to read it. Steven has a French bulldog called Big Eared Bob and he likes to chew bones or sit on Steven’s lap whilst he is working! In Sophy Henn’s event, she taught us to draw Pizazz – her brilliant superhero character – she’s working on the 4th book at the moment. I love art and drawing so it was really fun for me to meet some authors who are also illustrators and I found them very inspiring.  

 I asked Liz Pichon, Steven Lenton and Sophy Henn all the same question – would you rather shower in gravy or bathe in tomato ketchup? They all chose ketchup! Sophy asked if she could have a tray of chips with it! What a good idea! Steven Lenton said he eats tomato purée from the tube!  

 I’ve been listening to Liz Pichon’s podcast, Tremendous Tales, and she asks her guests about their tremendous fails. I asked Steven and Sophy what the most embarrassing thing was to happen them as a child. Steven was sick outside a toy shop when he was little! Sophy was late for school once and had to carry a jumbo bag from Japan through assembly, but she said she tries not to be embarrassed about things anymore and I think that’s very wise! 

I asked Steven and Sophy what advice they had for a budding writer or illustrator. Steven said if you want to be a writer keep reading everything and to be an illustrator draw everything and keep a sketch pad with you at all times. He wanted to work for Walt Disney when he was little and he was an animator for 10 years before he started working on books. Sophy said to not compare yourself to anyone else, draw in your own way and work hard. When she was little she wanted to be a tap dancer and a detective. 

I loved being a Junior Journalist, I was a little bit nervous to start with but had a lot of fun. I live in Bradford on Avon, just outside Bath, and we’re so lucky to have such an amazing festival so close to us. 

 I was delighted to be able to interview Simon Farnaby. I am a big fan of his acting in Horrible Histories, Ghosts, Paddington and Paddington 2, and I really enjoyed his first book about the Misadventures of Merdyn The Wild. 

We got to go backstage to the Green Room, and I felt very special. He was very funny and generous with his time. At his event he did a reading from The Misadventures of Merdyn The Wild and I thought it was brilliant.  

Here was what I asked him: 

What inspired you to write the Wizard series and is Merdyn based on anyone you know? 

I always wanted to write an odd friendship with a kid and someone strange and unusual. I like ET and Stig of the Dump, they are my references. I always wanted to have an unusual friend when I was a kid who wasn’t a normal person, who had a superpower or could fly. Merdyn is probably based on a character that as an actor that I tend to play – he’s quite big and full of himself but underneath it all he’s quite insecure. He’s a bit of an idiot. So he’s probably based on the sort of characters I like to play. Not that I do want to play him, I’d like someone else to play him because it would be too hard work.  

What did you want to be when you were small? 

Lots of things – I was quite faddy. I wanted to be a boxer after I saw Rocky. Depending on what I’d seen, I was easily influenced. I wanted to be a dancer when I saw a film called Footloose. Then I wanted to be a racing driver after I saw the Cannon Ball Run and I wanted to be a Raleigh Driver for a bit with a Raleigh jacket. So I wanted to be lots of things, but then when I got to about 15, I wanted to be a journalist and I did journalism at university and wrote for magazines, but I also wanted to do writing and I always liked funny things and making people laugh so that was something I always knew I could do. I didn’t really know you could make a living out of it, but when I did discover that, I thought it would be a good thing to do.  

Who is your favourite character in your book?
It would have to be Merdyn. He’s the main character and a lot of fun to write. I like writing Bubbles (the guinea pig) as well, Bubbles is sort of the most fun I have personally because he is so stupid and silly and can say anything. He’s got a brain the size of a walnut. I like writing for those characters because you don’t have to worry about being too clever or being too consistent.  

Can you remember all the words to the Monarch song from Horrible Histories?
No, I cannot. Are you going to ask me to sing it? I can’t even remember how it goes?! I know lots of kids do, do you? We had to learn so much for Horrible Histories, it’s the hardest job any TV actor could possibly do because you have to learn such a ridiculous amount of words. I think we hold the world record for the most amount of pages filmed in a day, like half a movie. And you’ve got to remember all these facts like that song. The songs are slightly easier to remember.  

What project are you working on next? 
I’m working on a Willy Wonka prequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a film which is being filmed right now. I’m also working on a World Book Day book which is all about Bubbles (the Guinea Pig from The Wizard in my Shed). Those are the two main things. 

How excited are you to have a World Book Day Book?
Tremendously excited. It’s a great honour and means more people can get to read my work. They’ll get to meet Bubbles. They’re quite short too so it’s nice to write something people can read in one sitting. 

What advice would you give to a budding author?
I’m a believer in learning the craft. I think they should teach this more in schools about how to write stories. When I was at school, I don’t remember anyone telling you how to write a story and I used to find it really difficult. I read books and watch TV shows and I couldn’t do any of that and it’s because it is a skill you have to learn. If you want to write a book, read a couple of books about writing books and how they structure them, once you know how to plan a story it’s much easier to write than if you just set off without knowing what you’re doing.’ 

What a great initiative this competition is. Huge thanks to Georgette McCready for giving these young talents a platform!

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