Monday, 17 November 2014

Goda's Journey from Lithuania to Seely School's Brilliant Books

Last week, we had a terrific visit from Goda Kacileviciute who is a young Lithuanian Emigre working in Sales and Social Media at the Mojatu Foundation in Nottingham.

Firstly, it was terrific to have a younger person involved in Brilliant Books, something the kids absolutely related to, and secondly, Goda has an interesting story to tell.  

Three years ago, Goda couldn't speak a word of English. 

Now, she speaks the language fluently. 

That's incredible and it was a message we were keen to get across to the kids, who, (and lets be frank, this is understandable) run the risk of taking this wonderful world language for granted.

Goda talked to the team about her love of Hans Christian Anderson and I know her parents would have been immensely proud of her when she actually read an extract from "The Fir Tree" and she was so good, you could have heard a pin drop. 

I don't want to give you the impression this was a breeze for her. At the meeting beforehand (which, I am told, is now known in office circles as a "huddle"), I thought she was going to be sick with nerves. 

This was the first time she had ever read in public, or addressed a group of twenty people. And speaking to 9-10 year olds isn't easy. Especially when, as Goda approached the screen, the questions came at her at speed, from all directions.

About Lithuania, about castles, about travel, about her, about everything.  Archie pointed out that Lithuania was one of just three Baltic states and clearly Goda didn't expect this. 

Archie had read this factoid beforehand. I know Shellie and Phil were proud of him and Goda thought it was wonderful. Goda dealt with her nerves and her presentation with aplomb and we were all proud of her - as will her parents back in Lithuania will be when they see this.

The book of Fairy Tales.
Thank you, Goda. 

Here are some of the highlights of the day.

Nathan and me traded comics - here is one his favourite
heroes - the Ghost Rider. I got a Wolverine in return.

Rawan and Amina ask me
about that number. I think I got it

Phil and Goda relax with 
parents and the kids after the 

The boys pass around "A Children's Guide to Politics"

Alex, Connor and Nathan with "Diary of a Wimpy Kid", a smash
hit in the Brilliant Books charts. The project purchased books those
for the kids to take home - it was published Wednesday.

In other news, the Brilliant Books anthology of the work generated by the pupils, "The Scribes of Seely" was published this weekend. It will be available, at cost price, on the First of December if anyone is interested in supporting the project. 

The pupils still cannot believe they are being published and every author out there reading this will know that feeling, the one where someone, somewhere, is reading your book. We'll be explaining this to them on Wednesday a bit further. I don't think they will fully understand until they see the book in their hands on 3rd December, presented to them, in front of the entire school.

The Brilliant Books project is kindly supported by the Big Lottery Fund.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Brilliant Books: Robots with Dr. Beardsley

Brilliant Books had a visit today from Dr.Paul Beardsley from the Disney Research Institute in Zurich. 

Paul grew up in Mansfield. Part of the reason he travelled over from Zurich to see eighteen kids with similar backgrounds is that he is a massive reader and always has been.

A typical Disney robot - Wall-E!

Paul told me that without reading, he would not be where he is today. And unlike some, he really HAS achieved what it says on his CV. 

Not bad for a lad from Mansfield - one of the most impoverished towns in the UK and a perennial fixture in the relegation spots for crime, ill health, poor education and unemployment.

The kids absolutely loved every word Dr Beardsley had to say and his presentation was a delight. Recorded by Radio Nottingham as he did so, and interviewed by the Nottigham Post, it was one of the best days we've had at Brilliant Books and a day the kids told me that they would never forget.

Here are some of the highlights:
Harry Potter - an ever popular favourite with the kids

The team gather with all the lottery funded Brilliant Books donations and some of their own books

Nathan shows me a photograph of one of his favourite superheroes - Emma Frost
of the X-Men. Nathan is a BIG comics fan and we'll be swapping comics next week!

The two Phils set some creative writing work on robots and here,
some of the gang get stuck in. The work  they created here wil appear in
The Scribes of Seely - published on December 3rd, just in time for Christmas.

A pupil poses with one of Paul's beautiful gifts to the school - "The Fairest Of Them All"
The Making of Snow White.

The Brilliant Books project is funded by the 
Big Lottery Fund - your £2 goes further
than you think

Shellie, seen here working on building robots, passionately 
supports the project as a Mentor, working with the pupils in small groups

Some of the books supplied to the kids - that they can take home and read - 
by the Brilliant Books Project

Dr Beardsley inspired the pupils to work in teams to build robots, following
instructions and then they had to design their own - the results
will be in The Scribes of Seely, the Brilliant Books anthology.

Here's an example :)

All in all, it was a fantastic day, one of the best so far and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks, Dr Paul!


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Georgia Rose joins us at Brilliant Books

Up and coming romantic suspense writer, Georgia Rose visited us from her lair down in the beautiful south. Here she is, practicing her big moment. 

If you would like to get to know her further, here's a recent interview she underwent.

Georgia's Interview At The Wizard's Cauldron

A good friend of mine, Georgia was scheduled to join us in January for the second tranche, but due to a last minute cancellation from the only author scheduled for this round, she kindly agreed to step in at short notice. 

A successful Director of several companies and writer of two very well received novels, the kids were excited to meet her.

Firstly - to great applause and excitement - she read from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

(Obviously not the first edition, most of which
are now kept in bank vaults)

...and later, from Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful.

Here's what Georgia had to say about the day:

"I was delighted, and felt very honoured, to be asked to come to one of the Brilliant Books days to talk to a group of 9 and 10 year olds about my career and how reading has helped me to succeed. I was introduced as Georgia Rose so had the opportunity to explain to the children what a pen name was and that I also have ‘real’ name. 

Whilst telling them that they could call me by either they insisted on calling me ‘Miss’ which I found adorable. 

I told them I was an avid reader as a child, though only really remember reading, and re-reading Enid Blyton books early on and I showed the children my favourite book, The Secret of Killimooin, (which I notice is on sale on Amazon for 1p, and that’s for the hardback version! What a bargain!) 

My copy sadly has lost its front cover somehow over the years and was looking very battered. The children were unimpressed ha ha ha. I explained that throughout school they would have to read set texts, some of which they would like, some of which they wouldn’t but that sometimes they would have to knuckle down and get on with those that didn’t appeal as much.  

I talked first on my ‘other’ career - what I do when I’m not writing. I’ve built up my company, which provides a variety of business services, so that I now work with 20 different businesses, of all sorts and with many different requirements. These businesses range from one man bands up to large consultancy practices which require maintenance of regular director level meetings at the Institute of Directors in London. This all keeps me busy but throughout all of these years I’ve never stopped reading, wherever and whenever I can. In fact I can’t imagine a day without reading.

Then came the writing and whilst I thought the children might think that once I was writing my own stories I didn’t need to read any more I explained to them that the reading became even more important.

I asked the children if they liked writing, if they found it easy, and was faced with many shaking heads. I tried to impress upon them how the more they read the easier they would find writing. Everything they read informs their writing improves their vocabulary and increases their knowledge as well as firing up their imagination. 

I pointed out how you get so much more from reading a book than by watching a film. The depth of the descriptions about emotions and settings are so vivid and if they read they will be able to start adding more of this into their writing. 

 I then asked who preferred reading non-fiction and most, if not all, of the hands that went up belonged to boys. We discussed the sort of non-fiction they liked, space, football, cars, amongst others and there was great excitement when I brought out the Guinness Book of World Records 2012. Many liked this and I explained it was the sort of book that was the preferred choice of my son who was a reluctant reader of fiction. I also impressed on them that it didn’t matter what they read. If they preferred absorbing the facts of non-fiction rather than losing themselves in the storyline of fiction that was absolutely fine just as long as they kept reading. 

The second session took place in a classroom and using my genre of romantic suspense Phil spoke to the children about Lord Byron, perhaps the finest romantic poet of all time (from Nottinghamshire, a county with an incredible literary heritage - Ed).

The idea for the afternoon was for the children to write a poem on whatever was their favourite thing then they got down to work. I really enjoyed this part and joined one table to help support the children in their writing. I was impressed by the ideas that started to flow when we chatted about their favourite things and they soon started getting the words down. Several finished this piece of work and moved onto writing Haikus!

 They were lovely to work with and the hour flew by, it had really been a great day and I’d encourage anyone who is offered the chance to do this to grab it with both hands".

Brilliant Books is funded by the Big Lottery Fund - your £2 goes further than you think

Thank you, Georgia. The young people were most impressed with the work you did and we hope you can come back and help us next year.

Next week, I talk to Phil Pidluznyj, the lead facilitator, about his love of reading and why Brilliant Books is important - and at this age too.

Thanks for reading,


"A Single Step" Cake

Friday, 10 October 2014

James Jones of Experian Talks Brilliant Books

Breakfast TV's James Jones

Popular James Jones is a regular on TV and Radio and an expert on credit reporting and credit itself. When it comes to Brilliant Books, James is the type of person we had in mind - someone who had made a success of himself through reading and literacy. Here is some of his advice.

He is (obviously) highly literate and credits a lifelong interest in reading as one of the major reasons for his success. I'm delighted to say he agreed to join us and his chosen book was the novelisation of long forgotten ITV series Catweazle about a completely useless Wizard. 

"Catweazle is a rather shabby and slightly mad magician who lives in a quiet cave with his ‘familiar’, a toad named Touchwood, in Eleventh-Century England. However, Catweazle’s peaceful life is soon shattered when he is forced to flee from a gang of attacking Norman soldiers; in desperation he casts a spell of flight in order to escape his pursuers – only to find himself transported through time, nine-hundred years into the future. Terrified by the sights and sounds of an strange new world, Catweazle stumbles across Hexwood Farm, where he befriends a young boy named Carrot; an unlikely friendship is soon forged, as over the course of thirteen episodes Catweazle attempts to find a way back to his proper time, whilst coming to terms with the wonders of the unfamiliar world in which he finds himself, such as “electrickery” (electricity), the “sun in a bottle” (a light-bulb), and a “telling bone” (telephone”). "

After James read from Catweazle, the young people were asked various questions about time travel and, in groups, they came up with some interesting answers, which they wrote down in their Brilliant Books notepad.


"I would go back to one month before the first Concorde was flown and make a lot of designs for it".

"I would go back in time to when school was invented and I would put children in charge".

"I would travel to the end of 1999 to see what it was like at the end of the years beginning 19. It would be great to be at the start of the years beginning 20!"

James reads "Catweazle" to the Brilliant Books group
It's been my pleasure to report that, half way through the first project, we've not lost a single group member (18) and the young people show a great deal of enthusiasm.  Some of the work - which will be included in the Brilliant Books anthology - is showing great promise. 

Have a read of this: this was written by someone on the topic of evacuation (where kids were taken out of the major cities in 1940 during World War Two's Blitz and sent to live in the country).

"I'm on the train and I'm saying goodbye. When it's moving I feel petrified because it's the real thing and I'm leaving my family and friends and toys and teddy bears...

There was a war and I had to go on a train. My heart was broken. I felt like a homeless person. I feel sad and worried about leaving my fabulous parents. I don't want to live with strangers. Who knows what their behaviour is like? My mum started to cry but she put on a brave faceabout leaving her daughter with a stranger."

Beautiful, huh. The writer is ten. 

I'd like to thank James for working with the children and I hope he can return at some future point as several other schools have shown an interest in working with us.

Next week: My colleagues, friends and acquaintances from my work as a writer and publisher (and particularly those active on Twitter) will be delighted to see that one of their own - an author who has made quite a stir - has agreed to work with Phil and Shellie to share her experiences with the kids. 

We cannot wait.

Until next week,


Brilliant Books is funded by the
Big Lottery Fund - your £2 goes a long way

PS: An alternative approach to engaging kids in reading- particularly young boys - can be found here from Julia Donaldson, an author of 160 children's books (the Gruffalo series), which I personally find completely naive, silly, and a bit "woman-in-the-street", but you may agree with her. See what you think.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Deputy Head Anona Morley Chats about Brilliant Books

In my day job (and using my alter-ego the Green Wizard), I interview independent authors worldwide about their books and their work.

I thought it would be a good idea to introduce the staff on Brilliant Books, all of who are giving up their time to inspire the young people - who are also giving up their playtime too.

Anona Morley is the Deputy Head of Seely Primary and our Brilliant Books Link. 

We're delighted to be working with her and it is her drive and passion to encourage young people to read that is driving the project forward internally. She's done the hard work for us, in other words. I spoke to her about many things literary and here's what she had to say.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Anona?

Well, I've been teaching for 10 years and am in my fourth year as deputy at my current school. I am interested in a range of books and music and enjoy embarking on new experiences that challenge me. 

I have 2 daughters and a cat called Tigger - who is very bouncy!

How are you involved in Brilliant Books?

I have been involved in the planning stages of this exciting project and support each week.

What are your ambitions for the project and the young people on it?

My ambition is that all of the pupils that embark on this journey with us will have their 'eyes opened' to world around them and  the enrichment of texts and language that is out there. I want them to be as excited about books and reading as I am, to develop a thirst for reading.

The Rijksmuseum, Netherlands
What book are you using on your Host slot and why?
I'm reading 'When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit' by Judith Kerr. This was the first book that I read as a child as thought 'wow' - the first book that I didn't want to stop reading but wanted to find out what happened in the end. I loved the style of Judith Kerr's writing and the detail, I liked how I could empathise with the main character Anna (as it was also based on Judith's life experiences).

It is this that I want to share with the children - how life experiences affect us and how we can use them to write and create amazing things.

Reading this book inspired me to go hunting for more stories and developed an interest within me to find out more!

I hear you are planning a  new approach to BB with a colleague?

Yes, I've invited my lovely colleague Beverley Rolley to join me. Beverley has a gift for languages and we both share a love of words. 

She will bring 'Carrie's War' by Nina Bawden with her. Both books link beautifully and we would like to use drama and shared experiences as a tool for writing this week.

Why do you think young boys and teenage boys (in particular) have stopped reading? What would you do about it?

Comics in the sixties and seventies were popular in an era where teenage
boys read in huge numbers. Nowadays, most American superhero comics are too expensive to
buy in bulk, are aimed at older people, and focus on adult themes.
British comics are virtually non-existent in their traditional weekly form.

I think there are lots of pressures for teenagers today. Lot's of the reading they do is dictated - but what about reading because you want to? 

Comics, while derided, introduced many teenagers to the world
in a way that textbooks never did. The Incredible Hulk, a modern
day allegory for the duality of man, is a case in point.
I think I would try to create opportunities for reading - that are built into the day - time out to read anything you want (well almost). 

Providing positive role models, which Brilliant Books is doing, is so important and very influential.

The popular Neil Gaiman - a lifelong reader and great advocate of getting
young people reading again

Morpurgo or Shakespeare? What type of writing would you focus on in an English curriculum?
Both - although I do love a bit of Shakespeare!

One of the most popular books written
in the last decade by YA specialist, Michael Morpurgo

Once my teacher had guided me through the language barriers I enjoyed the plot, the characters, the events - Shakespeare was so clever.

My daughters have always enjoyed reading children's versions of Shakespeare- once you understand the story then the language becomes more accessible. 

Children's Shakespeare - soon to be appearing on Brilliant Books
I've heard that Michael Morpurgo has also teamed up with the Royal Shakespeare company too!

In the English curriculum there has to be a breadth of writing - different audiences, different contexts. Making writing purposeful is key to getting the pupils on board.

Give us A) A book you reread regularly   B) A book which influenced you  C) A book you loved as a child
A) I don't really re-read books - I just admire them on my bookshelf and use those that I enjoyed to take me on my own literary journey of discovery to widen my repertoire.

B) I think all of the books I read at university - but probably 'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker.

C) I loved reading Enid Blyton as a child and it's great to see her books making a comeback - I particularly liked 'The Wishing Chair'.

In a parallel world, name one author, one actor and one successful person you would like to see on your Ideal Brilliant Books project.

1 author - it would have to be J.K Rowling - for the children - they would be sooooo excited.

1 actor - Whoopi Goldberg - she has demonstrated such a range of skills and is a truly amazing person - an inspiration.

1 successful person - Thomas Edison - if at first you don't succeed try and try again!!

Anona, thank you for chatting with us and thank you - and Seely Primary - for getting involved with Brilliant Books.

Thank you, Mark. I've really enjoyed the opportunity.

Anona encourages the Brilliant Books gang with their writing

Until next week


Brilliant Books

The Admont Abbey Library, Austria