Shifty and Dangerous: Tracey Corderoy, Andy Mulligan and 'Ways Into Reading' with the OCBG

How many ways into reading? Well, let me count the ways... 

Last Saturday, Mostly Books were proud to be supporting the Oxford Children's Book Group for their annual day conference 'Ways Into Reading'.

An imaginative and illuminating programme of speakers took to the stage at Oxford University Press (in the same building as the OUP Museum) with the focus being on the myriad of ways that are available to develop a deep and abiding love of reading amongst children.

The audience consisted of librarians, teachers, educational professionals, children's publishers, authors and readers - and subjects ranged from the magic of reading aloud and story sacks to the changing role of children's written language, and the importance of 'dangerous' books...

Victor Watson - author of the Paradise Barn series - kicked off with a look at the power and allure of series fiction.

Series fiction is often dismissed critically, but Victor recounted how one small boy described reading a new book as entering a room full of strangers, but that series fiction was like 'a room full of friends'.

He described his own journey into books with Malcolm Saville's 'Seven White Gates' and the dawning realisation that there were other books in the series, and that Malcolm was still writing them...

Because the most important books that children read are the ones that they read on their own, series fiction which hooks the reader - whether a successive or progressive series - are a powerful way of fostering a love of independent reading, in Malcolm's words of 'being on edge for that first page', of walking into that familiar room.

It's a theme which parallel's Neil Gaiman's comments this week that fostering a love of reading, at its simplest, is "finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them".

A good series seems a fantastic way of achieving this.

The team behind the The Phoenix Comic (Caro and Tom Fickling) gave a passionate plea for comics (and comics as opposed to graphic novels) as a way for children to develop a love of reading.

(And as someone who grew up reading almost nothing but The Beano, Tornado and 2000AD in my younger years, I wholeheartedly agree)

The Phoenix Comic - successor to the early DFC - is possibly the most important comic currently being published, given its commitment to the highest quality writing and artwork. Caro and Tom shared experiences of the comic so far, the humbling feedback which flows in from readers and parents - and shared plans for the future direction under the auspices of its publisher, the newly-independent David Fickling Books.

Tracey Corderoy is a big favourite at Mostly Books, with books such as Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, The Very Messy Mermaid and The Little White Owl being some of our bestselling children's books in recent years.

Tracey grew up in Port Talbot, in a house with no books, and told a tale of a girl being transformed into a reading machine by the multi-sensory magic of seeing books brought to life through all kinds of creative ways - something she does with her own books, with story sacks, dressing up, theatrical performances - and even live ducks in bookshops!

Author Susie Day meeting Tracey Corderoy
Intrigued to discover more, in between signing books afterwards, we wanted to find out more about Tracey's writing life...

Five Questions With...Tracey Corderoy's Writing Life

1. What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on Hubble Bubble young fiction #2 and #3 (a follow-up to Hubble Bubble: Glorious Granny Bake-off). I’m also working on a sequel to Shifty McGrifty.

2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
The best tip I was ever given was to ‘just tell the story’. Don’t worry about all the pieces being in place.

3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best is the immediate feedback you are able to get from children, I love that. The worst is deadlines, which I think must be quite common. I find them very constraining.

4. Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
(Thinks for a moment). Mmm, not really. I think it’s important *not* to give yourself ‘kit’ actually. Otherwise, if you don’t have it, it gives you an excuse not to write. I will write anywhere, on anything – even if I don’t feel like it.

5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
It has to be the day, after three years or so of rejections, when someone got in touch to say they really liked 'Grunt and Grouch', and could I come in and have a chat about producing a book with them, as characters. That was very special.


The conference featured a talk by the team behind Project X at OUP, and also Vineeta Gupta publisher of Children’s Dictionaries at OUP looking at the changing nature of children's language, particular some of the work they've done analysis the language patterns in the 40 million words from 90,000 short story entries in the Radio 2 short story competition. From children's favourite character names (Lucy and Jack) to the most popular 'new' word (Gangnam!) the '500 words' project is well worth discovering more about (and the BBC did a feature on this back in May).
Finally, Andy Mulligan - author of 'Trash' and the Ribblestrop books - gave a talk about dangerous books. Andy's own brush with danger (experiencing the reality of daily gun-battles whilst on the set of the film of 'Trash') Andy talked about the power of prose, and a different take on finding books that children *want* to read. And providing an extreme example of his own experiment in opening the door to a group of reluctant teen readers (it involved the book American Psycho and a not inconsiderable amount of flack from parents).

Andy's latest book 'The Boy With Two Heads' is about a mild-mannered, delightful 10 year old boy who suddenly grows another head. Cue confusion in dealing with an alter ego who is rude, arrogant and occasionally downright nasty. Anyone with teenagers might just get where Andy is coming from - and where he goes with this delightfully literal take on the adolescent and the emergence of a different persona...

We were also lucky to be able to chat with Andy, and ask him some questions as well...

Five Questions With...Andy Mulligan's Writing Life

1.  What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a book about the first world war, to be published next year. It’s about a 14 year old boy in this age, who becomes obsessed about a 14 year old boy who goes to war in 1914.

2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Get to the end. I don’t mean to sound smug, but it’s very easy to start something, in a burst of enthusiasm, but you’ve got to get to the finish line, even if you finish badly.

3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best is spending time with children, as characters, because as a children’s writer your characters will often be children. The worst (thinks very hard). Mmm, nope, I really can’t think of anything – what have other writers said?!

4.  Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
Mmm. A laptop (that sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it?). I have to say that, although not an essential, I love writing on a train, it’s the rhythm of the train that just seems to help with the writing process.
5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
I think – for me – it was the when I realised what the ending was going to be for ‘Trash’. There was this moment, I was in Manilla, a typhoon was approaching, I was walking around and the heaven’s opened. I just thought “this is how it’s going to end”. It was very biblical, you could see the trash coming out of the bins, everywhere, and rushing down the street...


Thank to all the authors for making it a wonderful day, and the Oxford Children's Book Group for inviting us along. It's a fantastic group, passionate about making a difference to children love of reading locally, so why not become a member?

(For another take on the conference, read the brilliant ChildLedChaos's perspective over on her blog - and Griselda Heppel's has also done a great take on the conference from an author's perspective as well)


  1. Excellent write-up - and I especially like your mini-interviews with Tracey Corderoy and Andy Milligan. Thanks for linking to my blog!

  2. Thanks Griselda - it was also lovely to meet you on Saturday. And well done on your spirited defence of Biff, Chip and Kipper!