Ready, Set, Read!

Summer Reading Challenge 2023

The Summer Reading Challenge takes place at libraries across the UK every year over the summer holidays, and this year the theme is Ready, Set, Read!

I’m very very excited that The Sky Beneath the Stone has been selected as part of the booklist for this year’s challenge, which is all about sport, play and getting outdoors. There are some amazing-looking books in the challenge, about everything from sailing to surfing, horse riding to women’s football. There are even puffins, dolphins and otters!

“Children are challenged to get reading over the summer holidays. From July to September, through taking part in the free Challenge, children will be able to join a superstar team and their marvellous mascots as they navigate a fictional summer obstacle course brought to life with illustrations by children’s illustrator Loretta Schauer, rewarded by free incentives including stickers.”

You may or may not know that the hero of The Sky Beneath the Stone, Ivy, loves hiking and camping in her county of Cumbria (home to the Lake District). Although she’s been going through a difficult time that means she’s spent less time outside over the past year, the beginning of the book sees her pack up her rucksack and set off on a big adventure.

Ivy enters the fairy realm of Underfell, a strange world that lies beneath Cumbria, but has the same geography. Almost all the places she visits along the way exist in the real world. Because of this, Ivy is able to use her map to navigate in Underfell.

I decided to include Ordnance Survey grid references at the start of each chapter so that, if people wanted to, they could find the settings from the story on real maps, and maybe even visit some of them. For example, my friend Sophie Anderson went to visit the stone circle Long Meg and her Daughters after reading the book!

If you’re not sure how to read grid references (to tell you the truth, I often have to look it up because I forget) my friend Jess Meagher and I made this guide for an exhibition we ran last summer – Navigating Underfell.

The Ordnance Survey maps that cover the areas mentioned in The Sky Beneath the Stone are OL5, OL6, OL7, OL8 and 89. You can often find maps like these in charity shops, or you can use OS Maps Online.

In my author events we do outdoor-themed activities like making a packing list for an adventure, practising finding grid references, describing settings using our senses and sometimes even making a collaborative map of magical places.

If you want to learn about some of the wildlife and plants that are mentioned in the book, you can look them up on Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Species Explorer. 10% of author royalties from sales of TSBTS go to Cumbria Wildlife Trust because of the amazing work they do protecting nature in the county.

For more information about the Summer Reading Challenge and how you can take part, visit their website or speak to a librarian at your local library! For event enquiries please visit my contact page. For activity ideas, check out Resources.

Tree to Me

Tree To Me launches today – a campaign to start a conversation between authors and publishers about the sustainability of book publishing. It’s a starting point that will hopefully bring about bigger changes to the way we produce books.

As a self-appointed Knight of the Greenwood (a title I borrowed from the Queen of Fairyland in Peter Bunzl’s Magicborn for my Instagram bio) the environmental cost of my work is something that is always weighing on my mind, so I have to hope that it will eventually have a positive impact that will go some way towards balancing the scales. I know that lots of other authors feel the same, and this tool will help us to make our voices heard.

To learn more and read about the toolkit, visit the Society of Authors website.

Retreat at Moniack Mhor

So the week before last I was really struggling to get into edits on a book I’ve been working on for a while (since 2015 if you really want to know, don’t cry, it’s fine) and my lovely wife suggested I go away for the week to get stuck in. That very morning, I’d had an email newsletter from Moniack Mhor, a retreat centre near Inverness, saying there was a last minute space on their self-guided retreat the next week. So I dived in and booked it and away I went.

It genuinely couldn’t have been a more perfect place to work on this project. We drove up into dense fog as we were arriving, which gave me an idea for how I could make a key scene a lot more spooky! Our taxi was also watched by a deer, a pony and a calico cat as we passed, who inspired some minor characters.

It was such a peaceful place, and a very inspiring environment. I went for some good walks/runs, but mostly I just wrote from when I woke up until the evening (or earlier if my brain was fried). I was a bit worried about cooking, although we each only cooked one evening of the week, but I actually loved doing all the food prep with my team and taking my mind off work for a couple of hours!

The main thing that was different for me, being there, was that I didn’t really look at my emails until the end of the day, and it was so much easier to make progress that way. I am definitely trying to take this into my work at home from now on.

I worked a lot from my coorie room but there was really no beating the hobbit house, a strawbale roundhouse with amazing views.

There were only a dozen of us staying there and everyone was working on something totally different. It was great to be able to speak to people about their writing and then to hear them read from their work on the last night. We were also so well looked after by Ellen, Kit, Isobel and the rest of the lovely people who keep Moniack running.

I have never been on an official writers’ retreat before, but it was such a great way to focus on a project, I definitely hope to return to Moniack again one day!

Live Literature Funding Open

Happy New Year!

Oh right, it’s February already.

I just wanted to highlight that Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature funding programme is now open for applications.

Live Literature funding is open to Scottish schools, libraries, community groups and not-for-profits. It provides partial funding for author visits, meaning over half of author fees and all expenses are covered by Scottish Book Trust. This applies to both in-person and remote events running any time before 31st March 2024.

You can find me on the Live Literature Directory here!

The upcoming deadlines are 20th February, 21st August and 20th November.

I love doing events and, while I am scaling back the number of events I’m planning for 2023 in comparison to last year, enquiries are still very welcome.

In the meantime, here are some photos from a few of my favourite events of 2022. It was a big year – five festivals, two libraries, around 18 schools and a five-week exhibition… no wonder I’m tired!

My local library
International Literature Festival Dublin
Forest School visit
Falcons & Fairy Kings – Image courtesy of Nick Anderson
Kendal Mountain Festival
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Primary Transition Project

Winter in Underfell

It’s getting ever closer to the Winter Solstice and we’ve had days of snow and frost here in Scotland! So what better time to have been featured on Golden Books Girl as part of A Golden Blogmas 2022?

I wrote a guest post for lovely Amy all about my childhood holidays, snow-related folk tales and whether there is really such a thing as Christmas in a fairy realm without seasons… You can read it here!

It also seems like a good time for a seasonal reminder that The Sky Beneath the Stone might just make a lovely gift for a young (or young-at-heart) person in your life. If you’re ordering from your local indie bookshop, make sure you give them as much notice as possible as there are postal strikes happening (support the workers). You can also support indies by ordering through

If you’d like your copy dedicated, drop me a line on the Contact page and I will get a signed bookplate posted out to you, free of charge, although it may not arrive in time for Christmas Day.

Happy holidays!

Kendal Mountain Festival

On Sunday 20th November I am going to be in the wonderful town of Kendal for the annual Kendal Mountain Book Festival!

I’m so excited about this one because:
a) it’s the first festival I’ve been involved with in Cumbria, the county where TSBTS is set and where I grew up
b) KMF is the UK’s biggest adventure festival so you know Ivy would love to be there
c) it’s a festival I love going to anyway, and has featured some friends and many writers I love!

The event will be taking place at 1.30pm on Sunday 20th November at the Abbot Hall Social Centre on Dowker’s Lane, Kendal. Come ready to share your favourite places and learn how to tell a story about them! (Participation is not required, for the shy beans out there.)

Tickets are free and you can reserve yours here. Suitable for all ages but most especially ~9-12 year olds.

Award nomination for TSBTS

I’m very happy to say that The Sky Beneath the Stone has been nominated for a Lancashire School Library Service Fantastic Book Award!

The nominees in each group will be read and discussed by readers across Lancashire aged 9-11 who then vote for their favourites.

Thank you so much for the nomination, Lancashire SLS. I’m glad TSBTS will be read by lots of Cumbria’s neighbours over the coming months!

The World Beneath the Fells

I have just spent the past week setting up an exhibition at Florence Arts Centre in Egremont with Jessica Meagher, one of my oldest friends, with whom I run Heather & Yew.

As the flyer says, the exhibition is all about the Cumbrian folklore, history and nature that inspired Underfell – the fairy world underneath Cumbria – in The Sky Beneath the Stone. There are loads of historical images of the settings, newly commissioned works of art and photography, and lots of interactive elements like a collaborative map, a forest of stories and a mapreading challenge!

There are free events happening all through summer, as well as one special event where tickets are £5 – a creative writing nature trail at Dubbs Moss nature reserve.

We had our opening event on Saturday – a visit from Gary from Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre with a whole range of birds. We were worried the rain would slow us down but in the end we brought the whole event into the theatre at Florence and everyone had a turn at flying Buzz the Harris Hawk!

By the end of the day we also had loads of additions to our map. It was such a fantastic start to the exhibition!

The World Beneath the Fells is open at Florence Arts Centre from the 29th of July until the 4th of September, Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Hope to see you there!

Learning to Read the Landscape

I recently wrote a guest post for Cumbria Wildlife Trust about learning to become ecologically literate as an adult.

I remember running through a field with my best friend on her parents’ farm when I was about ten years old.

I heard the strangest sound overhead – I thought it was a metal detector or maybe a robot, and couldn’t for the life of me understand why it was coming from the sky. It was nearly 20 years later that I finally learned what a lapwing sounds like.

Actually, for most of my life I didn’t know the names of many birds beyond magpies and sparrows, or the difference between beech and birch. I grew up outside Whitehaven and spent much of those years playing outdoors with my brothers and friends: nature was the backdrop to our fantasy worlds, inspired by The Lord of the Rings. Mounds of earth overgrown with long grasses were our mountain ranges; the bog at the bottom of the field was a deadly swamp. There was a whole village in the hollows of the hawthorn hedges, and an old railway sleeper behind the barn was a narrow bridge over a ravine.

To read the rest, head to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust blog.

10% of author royalties from sales of The Sky Beneath the Stone are donated to Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Creative writing workshop this summer

This summer I’m going to be in Cumbria almost every weekend for the exhibition I’m running with my friend Jess, The World Beneath the Fells – all about the world of The Sky Beneath the Stone.

More about that later, but for now I wanted to let you know that I’m running a free five-week creative writing workshop for young people aged 16-25.

“Whether you’ve been writing since you could hold a pen or have never quite been sure where to start, this workshop is for anyone aged 16-25 who’s interested in discovering how stories work. We’ll learn about character development, story structure and worldbuilding, using the places we know and experiences we’ve had to propel our writing to far-flung planets or times gone by – or right here at home. Participants will work towards completing a short story or outlining and beginning a book, with the optional opportunity to read your work or have it read out at the final event of the exhibition, BETWEEN THE PAGES.

Every Sunday from 31st July to 28th August 2022, 2-4pm, Florence Arts Centre.
Participants should do their best to attend all sessions.

FREE but places are strictly limited.

To apply, send a paragraph about yourself and why you would like to participate to Please feel free to email with any questions you have about the course!”

If you know anyone who might be interested in taking part, please put them in touch as I’m really hoping to have a few keen pupils!