Tag Archives: Nick Sharratt

Opal Plumstead

Opal Plumstead is a true sister of many of Jacqueline Wilson’s other heroines. She’s artistic and likes to read, she’s intelligent – if a little immature – and she’s outspoken. And she has a problem, like all her ‘sisters.’

Opal’s Oxford educated father ends up in jail, and her time at school comes to an end, despite the fact that she is only 14. This is 1913, and 14-year-olds could be called upon to be the family’s breadwinner. Opal doesn’t have a very good relationship with her mother, or her flirty older sister Cassie, but still she goes out to do factory work.

Jacqueline Wilson, Opal Plumstead

If you leave out the bleak last 18 pages, this is a typical Jacqueline Wilson novel for slightly older readers. It is a tale filled with personal triumphs and failures, and it also gives the reader a history lesson in what life was like one hundred years ago, with the suffragette movement and the start of WWI. It’s not boring or old-fashioned, though. Opal talks like her modern counterparts, which makes the story easier to access. It’s almost as though we time-travelled to the pre-war period.

She has to battle not only with what the neighbours will say (and they do) or how her mother and sister perceive her, but she loses her one and only friend, and she finds it hard to get on with her new workmates at the factory. But Opal has her artistic talents and she is full of ideas. Not always realistic, but still.

Cassie falls in love with a married, wealthy man, and Opal is very concerned. Then she herself meets an older boy, who is rich, and thereby out of her league.

And there’s the war.

Celebrating Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book


Right, I’m vertical again. Have had four hours of sleep, so this will be absolutely fine. It seems I wasn’t even the most far flung guest at last night’s Opal Plumstead bash at the Ritz. Dundee beats me very slightly. The really good thing about long train trips is the reading a witch can get done. By Darlington I had been scared witless by Rachel Ward, and I continued with Danny Weston, who continued to scare me with more water based ghostly shenanigans.

Must have sat next to either an author or an editor, because I could tell that a novel was being edited on my right, all the way to King’s Cross. Which has altered beyond all recognition since I was last there. (To begin with, I had to adjust my expectations from thinking I was at Euston.) I saw the Harry Potter trolley and the long queue of people wanting to catch the train to Hogwarts.

Royal Institution

After a very brief look at clothes for librarians, I detoured to Green Park for a sit on a bench, before walking to the Royal Institution for a look around the Faraday Museum. I’ve never managed to be in the right part of London at the right time. I disgraced myself with the Elements Song down in the basement, before a nice pot of tea. Actually, it was only Twinings, so whereas my rest was nice, the tea was Twinings…

Ritz chandelier

And at last it was time for the Ritz! I spoke to probably four doormen and similar, before getting my flower arrangements right and finding the Music Room. (Where else would you be told to turn left by the flower arrangement?)

Jacqueline Wilson was celebrating her 100th (book, not birthday!) in the company of 100 guests (no, I didn’t count), so what was I doing there, you ask. I have no idea. Clutching a glass of water, and eating rather a lot of rather tasty canapés. (Made a bit of a mess with the egg one.) Trying to rub shoulders with interesting people. The lovely Naomi made sure I spoke to Jacky early on, and I realised I ought to have brought a present, when my co-guest handed over a cute dog portrait.


That wasn’t the only gift. There was a striking handmade Opal Plumstead stocking, of the Christmas variety. And like at all children’s parties, there was a party bag (purple) for the guests at the end of the evening, containing a signed book and some Opal Plumstead sweets.

Opal Plumstead bag

There were speeches. Annie Eaton had a paper to read from, to get it right. And she read out a letter fron Nick Sharratt, who couldn’t be there. He loves working with Jacky, but no, they are still not married, and no, he can’t ask her to put every child he meets into one of her books.

Jacqueline Wilson

Jacky also had a paper, because – as she said – there had been champagne. Lovely speech, which was followed by two young men singing a song (from Hetty Feather the play, I believe) which listed every single JW book title, or so it seemed. The cast from Hetty Feather were all there, and I even met ‘Jem,’ aka actor Matt Costain. He wore a name badge which claimed he was in actual fact Jacqueline Wilson, but I didn’t believe that for a moment.

I’d worried in case book no. 100 would be deemed a nice even number to stop at. But book 101 is already in the bag, and book 102 is in the process of being written. Fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. (Although my shelves have pointed out they don’t see how they will cope.)


It was one of those events where an increasingly forgetful witch sees familiar faces and has to think hard who they belong to. So, there was one JW book character; driver Bob. Jacky’s daughter was there, as was Simon Mayo. Lots of publishing people, Jacky’s first agent, Julia Eccleshare, Anne Marley, Caro Fickling, Philippa Dickinson…

'Hetty Feather'

And many thanks to ‘Dear Trish’ who pointed out I’m not a Tom, Dick or Harry. One can’t always be sure.

Paws and Whiskers

Who knew Philip Pullman has had dogs? Yeah, I suppose you all did, except me. He doesn’t strike me as a pet person, somehow. But he has had dogs. Three, of which two were very stupid, according to the doting Philip.

I learned all this in Paws and Whiskers, which is an anthology about cats and dogs, chosen by none other than Jacqueline Wilson. She wrote about her own cats, and they sounded so lovely I was halfway to Battersea and its Dogs & Cats* Home before I remembered I don’t want a pet.

Being my normal cynical self, I was intending to glance at this anthology, before handing it to someone who might appreciate it. Seems that person is me. I have only sampled the odd thing here and there – so far – but I can see that P&W will have to join my shelf of collections, where I can dip in and out of stories as and when I need something nice. (Will have to see about getting the shelf made longer.)

Jacqueline Wilson, Paws and Whiskers

Jacqueline has written a new story herself, and there is also her old Werepuppy. Apart from Philip Pullman, you can read about Malorie Blackman’s fondness for German shepherds, even when they are cowards. The usual suspects like Michael Morpurgo and Enid Blyton are there, as is Sharon Creech with her lovely Dog. Adèle Geras has written about a cat I didn’t know she once had, including a poem about her beloved pet, who was never left alone when they went on holiday. They took turns…

Patrick Ness is there with his much missed Manchee, along with countless expected and unexpected authors who have had pets, or who have written about them. Some pieces are excerpts from books, and other stories have been specially written for P&W.

The really good thing with this kind of selection of writing is that if you love Jacqueline (and who doesn’t?) you will discover new writers and their work, simply because if it’s good enough for your hero, it will be good enough for you.

Illustrations – as nearly always – by Nick Sharratt.

*Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the home.

Lots of new books

And some old ones, too. You can never re-issue certain books too many times.

It’s understandable that the publishing world would pick a day like today to publish lots of books. 6th of June has a lovely ring to it. It’s sort of made for books, I’d say.

Originally I was going to review something today, just because it had a 6/6 publishing date. But then I discovered it’d be almost impossible to choose which one. (And I sort of ran out of time, too. I kept working on the May books for longer than I should have. They were good, too. Don’t misunderstand me. But June beats everything.) So I’ll let you have a June book tomorrow. And later.

Terry Pratchett’s publishers have really gone to town today. I’d like to think they had me in mind. But maybe not. Anyway; Terry’s Johnny trilogy is out again, and it is such a fantastic set of stories. I think I sometimes say stupid things such as I like Johnny and the Bomb best, but then I remember that I don’t necessarily, because they are all great, so I won’t say that. At all.

And, Maurice and the rodents are also back, and you just can’t not read it, if you haven’t already.

Theresa Breslin’s Queen Mary book is out in paperback, and Sam Hepburn’s Chasing the Dark is also available now. Andy Mulligan has a new book today (thank you!) and so does Elen Caldecott.

Kate Maryon and Margo Lanagan, likewise. Nicholas Allan. Sean Stockdale, Alexandra Strick and Ros Asquith.

So perhaps it becomes clear why I don’t read all of the books, however excellent and marvellous they are, or seem to be. I will read some, and some I will put in my ‘house arrest’ box. They will be most welcome when the time comes.

Actually, I will leave you today with an almost review. Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart have a new picture book, Just Imagine. It has many very lovely pictures. Naturally. The kind you could sit for hours finding new details in. It has words, too, including the word ‘bewitching.’ Despite that, and despite the fact that there is a witch in the book, I don’t think they have covered just what I’d want; the time to read all the books I would like to read.

Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart, Just Imagine

Just Imagine shows the reader a lot of different scenarios for what or who they could be. Since the book-reading-time thing isn’t on offer, I’ll go for ‘parent-frightening’ which actually sounds quite fun.

Grrrr! (Although that is only if you don’t go out and read one of the books I’ve mentioned. One of the very special 6th June books.)

Margo Lanagan, Yellow Cake

(Or I could scare you with Yellow Cake by Margo Lanagan. It’s a great title. I’m just a little scared of Margo, whose writing is not exactly run of the mill.

The other titles I’ve not mentioned yet are Theresa Breslin – Spy for the Queen of Scots, Kate Maryon – Invisible Girl, Nicholas Allan – The Royal Nappy, Stockdale, Strick and Asquith – Max the Champion, Elen Caldecott – The Great Ice-Cream Heist, Andy Mulligan – The Boy with 2 Heads, Terry Pratchett – The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.)

Bookwitch bites #103

Close encounters.

Daughter had a busy Friday. Not only was she expected to do normal lectures, but I had said she’d be better off travelling ‘home’ that day and not waste all Saturday on a train. Not that time on a train is wasted. Then they (uni) decided to serve up a lecture by Chris Lintott Friday morning, and not content with a mere lecture, she acted on the insanity that runs in our family and requested an interview.

So, that was one tall, famous person. Once on the train she phoned to tell me her favourite children’s illustrator was sitting further along in the same coach. I told her to go talk to him. She phoned back later to say she chickened out. I said, was she sure it was him? She said there can’t be too many men carrying a Tracy Beaker bag. She’s probably right. So that was tall man number two.

Then she arrived ‘home’ and after barely any sleep, I forced her to travel on another train, all the way to Manchester, early Saturday morning. It was time for encounter number three. (We only have a week. Much has to be crammed into it.)

We had arranged to meet Fletcher Moss in the café at Waterstones Deansgate. It’s quite fun arranging to meet a pseudonym somewhere public. We allowed this man who came up to say he was meeting someone there to buy us a pot of tea. It seemed like more than a coincidence. He was probably ‘Fletcher.’

He was tall, but not as tall as the other two.

There will be more on Lintott & Moss another day. (They’d make good solicitors.)

Emerald Star

It seemed to me that nothing Hetty/Sapphire/Emerald ended up doing was right. I think she felt the same, which is why (let’s call her) Hetty went from one place to the next.

We left her last year feeling that her future would be safe if she could only find her ‘real’ father, while thinking it might be rather difficult to work out who he was. But it’s not as easy as all that. Blood might be thicker than water, but there is a lot more to parenthood or family ties than shared blood.

Jacqueline Wilson, Emerald Star

So, let’s sit down and consider what would suit Hetty. Because that’s what really matters. She’s so headstrong that she herself couldn’t see the truth for a long time. But when I got an inkling of where she needed to be, and why, it was terribly obvious. (My first reader was surprised and maybe a little disappointed by how things turned out.)

I am very happy for Hetty, and I think she ended up happy too. It’s been an interesting journey, from foster family to foundling hospital to seaside with one parent to another seaside with the other parent to original family to…

These have not been the standard kind of historical novels, because Jacqueline Wilson is anything but standard, but I suspect a new group of readers have discovered the past and what it was like. Hopefully they will want to explore some more.

(The cover by Nick Sharratt is my favourite in the trilogy.)

Picking picture books

I have a nice and varied pile of picture books here. I’ll start with Nick Sharratt’s Fancy Dress Farmyard, which is precisely what it sounds like. Pig and Donkey and the others dress up and cover their faces with masks. And then they have a party. Lovely illustrations as ever.

Picture books

And – in no particular order – we have The Snorgh and the Sailor by Will Buckingham and Thomas Docherty. The illustrations will appeal to the adults who end up reading this to their little ones. It’s about putting up with new ideas and not being a stick-in-the-mud, and to look for friendship in unlikely places.

The magic word pops up in Never say NO to a Princess, by Tracey Corderoy and Kate Leake. The princess takes a while, but she gets it in the end, with the help of her friend the dragon.

Ben Blathwayt tells a lovely tale in Minnow and the Bear. Minnow may be small, but he can do things, too. He ‘grows up’ and he makes a new friend and he saves the day. Eventually.

Arthur has a dream in Polly Dunbar’s Arthur’s Dream Boat, but no one will listen. So he has to insist on telling them what happened. Lovely Dunbar-ish illustrations as you’d expect.

Finally, we have Jez Alborough’s Six Little Chicks, because it’s almost Easter. There is a most disturbing picture of the innocent little chicks and a great big fox peering in at them. How will it end?

Yes, how will it end? Not necessarily as you’d expect.


Bookwitch bites #70

Sisters and socks and television this week. I’ve been watching far too many daytime shows for my comfort, in order to take in most of the interviews with John Barrowman and his lovely sister Carole.

Then there was Blue Peter who had ‘some sort of ‘ book programme this week. The quotation marks are there to point out that I think they could have had more on books. I now also know stuff about escorting sharks in elevators – and surviving – which I dare say might come in tremendously handy one day, but which was not fully book related. Lucy Coats was lovely, talking about one of the books I have not read. Michael Rosen and others were also there to enthuse about the various Blue Peter shortlisted books.

David Fickling

Here is an ‘almost television’ programme, a video featuring Jacqueline Wilson and her books in general, and her new The Worst Thing About My Sister in particular. Jacqueline answers questions from an audience of children, and reads from TWTAMS.

This week’s sockman, Nick Sharratt is also in there. In retrospect I began wondering whether Nick got his sock inspiration from David Fickling of red socks fame. That’s DF from David Sockling Books, you understand. And in this week’s sock relay, it was to Oxford and David Sockling/Fickling that Nick headed as he left our ‘blissful, lovely’* Sockport.

Big Book Babble with Jacqueline Wilson ans Nick Sharratt

* That’s almost a literary quotation, but I’m afraid I can’t divulge who said it, for fear of repercussions.

When Nick Sharratt came to Sockport

Witch socks?

Nick Sharratt was in France when he finally came up with his crazy word Sockywockydoodah. He’d been waiting for it for some time, and there it was. Nick and his co-wordsmith Elizabeth Lindsay have worked on their new book Socks for ‘a few’ years, and it is finally here in all its colourful, socky glory. (But those feet you see are mine.)

Here is Sockport, which is only right and proper for a sock-book, with one sock-word cheesier than the other. Not to mention the crazy and colourful socks Nick has used in the strangest of places. Sockodiles. Socks o’clock. Sock-a-doodle-doo. Goldisocks. Hipposockamus.

You get the idea.

Nick Sharratt and Elizabeth Lindsay, Socks

And then Nick came to Sockport for some events. (Today, actually.) I caught up with him yesterday in Chorlton, where he was doing socky things with lots of little children. They sat on the floor and coloured in socks. They asked him to draw sock-bulls and sock-warthogs, and then they complained when the creatures didn’t look right…

Socks in Chorlton

Nick read to them from several of his books, and especially his older Pants (that’s a book, not his clothing) where the children all knew the lines already. He had them count socks from a laundry basket, and there was a slight issue as to whether 50 is closer to 64 than 83 is. He’s a good ‘play uncle’ is Nick. I was relieved to hear he doesn’t actually travel with the laundry basket or the clothes line, although he had plenty of bags as it was. Nick had considered wearing non-matching socks, but felt it might give the wrong impression on the bus, what with all the bags he was carrying.

Nick Sharratt in Chorlton

Once he had made sure he had his scalpel (!), he let himself be carried off by your witch (wearing her best stripey socks) and the Resident IT Consultant. This was either a good thing or a bad thing. It was too late to find a coffee shop in Chorlton. An open one, I mean. So despite gasping for a drink, Nick was driven to Tesco in the witchmobile.

Nick Sharratt's socks

Yes. That is how low we have sunk, but there Nick got his latte (once the Resident IT Consultant had stopped trying to kill him in the car park) and we had a chat. Actually, we had quite a bit of a chat in the car, seeing as any journey at that sort of time takes a long time.

He even removed his shoes for me and let me have a proper look at his striking socks. They weren’t the same ones that Jacqueline Wilson approved of on their first meeting, but it was lucky for us all that she liked the yellow socks he wore that day. Where would we be without Tracy Beaker?

Nick Sharratt

So, Sockport. Nick needed a train, and we managed to get him to Sockport station in time for the 18.05, which promptly passed Bookwitch Towers just as we arrived home ourselves.

Apologies for the grainy photos. It was dark. And OK, the photographer was not a very good one this time. I was all I had, though.

The sister thing

They fight. Or so I gather. Jacqueline Wilson has written about many kinds of sisters over the years, but this time in The Worst Thing About My Sister, she’s got Marty and Melissa squabbling the whole time. I got quite tired of them and wanted to tell them not to be so silly.

I also got tired of the parents, who at times were rather feeble in dealing with their warring daughters. But I suppose if you want to be Dad’s favourite, it’s quite upsetting if he seems to be friendly with that horrible sister of yours. (Cue some foot stamping and screaming.)

Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt, The Worst Thing About My Sister

But that’s the whole point, of course. This is a book aimed at younger readers, and you need to spell it out, so that it’s clear that both girls are being silly and unreasonable. And I believe it’s the main character Marty who is the worst. Hopefully readers will see that she is and can egg Marty on to mature just a little bit.

Their dressmaking Mum wants Marty’s room for her business, so makes the girls share a bedroom, which is so not going to work. But they have to, because the alternative makes their Dad very upset, and they almost join forces, just to make him smile again.

It’s a clash of personalities, but in the end the girls discover they have a few things in common after all. I imagine this will be good for those of Jacqueline’s fans who are in the same situation. Sisters are often a pain, but not all the time.

Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt, The Worst Thing About My Sister

I have only one gripe. Why did the silly girl at school have to be fat, and ridiculed for it? Two gripes, in fact. The lovely Nick Sharratt has drawn the fat girl looking particularly bad, and fat. And surely that’s not a helmet hairstyle?

Long live sister love! And not all fat people are evil with bad hair and worse dress sense.