Monday, 4 September 2017

Researching To Get It Right

I started writing non-fiction 20 years ago and I continue to write non-fiction magazine features to this day.  I've always strived to write features that are as accurate as possible. Even though I know (I heard it on the TV programme QI, so it must be true) that facts normally have a shelf life of five years. 

This desire to get facts correct crosses over into my picture book and short story writing. I've had many a discussion with editors on getting the 'facts' right. I understand in my picture and short story collections we're dealing with talking animals or creatures that don't exist. However, having studied environmental geography at university I prefer to try to ensure the life science elements of a story are as real as possible. 

For example in my first picture book (A Book For Bramble) Bramble the hedgehog is hibernating under an upturned wheel barrow. This is based on real life. You see in between 'life' stuff I rescue hedgehogs (Herts Hogline) and two carers I work with lost the use of their wheelbarrow to hedgehogs hibernating under them. However I did have to concede to the editors decision that Bramble slept with his family. Typically hedgehogs hibernate on their own. I say typically because we've had  autumn hoglets in our care hibernate late in the season curled up beside their siblings, even though we provided a hibunacula each.

This year I've worked on two books that feature a hedgehog as the main character. The first was a picture called 'Harveys Big Sleep' written as co-author with hypnotist Chris Caress. The second book (Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm) is a collection of re-told short stories obviously staring a hedgehog. It was important to me that although I was dealing with talking animals that I kept the stories as natural as possible and that the facts were correct. So in both books I have Harvey and Hedgehog eating the right food, only rambling at night and living on their own. 

I'm now working on a follow on collection of short stories (Fox of Moon Meadow Farm) that stars a Fox. As with my previous books it's important to me to keep to the facts as much as I can. So because I don't know anywhere near as much about our other wildlife (foxes, badgers, starlings etc.) I've had the pleasure in having to do some research (it's the geek in me, I love a bit of research). So I've researched a range of things including:

  • What times foxes are most active
  • When they have their cubs and what calls they make 
  • When leatherjackets (crane fly) are in season
  • How wild animals deal with parasites, mainly fleas
  • What starlings eat and their natural behaviour
  • When damson fruit come into season

Armed with this research I'm now working up the roughed out stories and I'm hoping by this time next month I'll have the first draft completed. As I've been writing this post I've been asking myself if I'm the only one who likes to keep to the facts or is that just 'so yesterday?' What with fake news appearing to be the thing to write at the moment.

So what do you prefer to write or read fact or fake?    


Now for a blatant plug:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm
Meet the Trickers
Brer Rabbit
Coyote Rales Retold
Anansi the Trickster Spider (Volumes 1 & 2)

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Researching online

In my last post 'I used to go to the library' I shared a few online libraries that enabled me to research for my latest book ‘Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm’ without visiting a physical library. This time I wanted to share aa few more I've used and found really helpful.  

Encyclopedia Mythica (thank you for the suggestion Fran B) holds 7,000 plus articles. It contains a mythology sections that is divided into six geographical regions. These being Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Oceania. I’ve already bookmarked their folktales section. 

Scribd. has built a library of books, audiobooks, documents, magazines and sheet music. At the time of writing this they were running a read free for 30 days special. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down how much the charge is once that 30 days expires but I understand it’s a “single small payment.” is a platform for academics to share research papers. It claims to be the easier way to share papers with millions of people across the wold for fee. To use you must caret an account but once you do you have access to over 18 million papers. 

LibriVox has the mission statement of “to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.” This site is a non-commercial, non-profit and is run by volunteers. The volunteers record public domain books (mostly sourced from the Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive) and makes them available to download free. They are always in need of volunteers to read and record books in all languages.

Google Books is a searchable data base of books in print and in the public domain. A good starting point for any research. You can search by term, title or author. When clicking on the link for a book it will tell you if a book is available in eBook format and supply links to places you can purchase the physical format of the book.

Enjoy that research. 

A collection of 8 traditional stories retold

Now for a blatant plug:

My latest collection of short stories featuring my favourite animal the hedgehog is available on Amazon in eBook format and as a paperback.

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Saturday, 8 July 2017

I used to go to the library

I've recently been enjoying carrying out a lot of research for a non-fiction work. Now once upon a time I used to go to the library to do my research. Searching shelves for those elusive books and ordering books from other libraries. That's no longer the case. Over the last few weeks I haven't left my desk but have visited libraries all over the world and found everything I've needed. So in the spirit of sharing I've decided to share my top five online digital libraries. They are in no particular order:

This easy to use online library contains primary and secondary sources for the study of ancient Greece and Rome. Perseus is a non-profit located in the Department of the Classic, Tufts University - Medford, Massachusetts.

This non-profit library contains millions of free books, movies, software, music, website and more. It is easy to use and to support the great work it does just click on the present icon near the top right hand corner.

A fantastic resource which is provided by the HathiTrust in partnership with a huge number of academic and research institutions. If you're unsure about fair use of anything on the site click here to find out how you can ensure you don't infringe copyright.

Gutenberg Project

A huge library of free ebooks containing a wealth of knowledge. It's easy to use and many of the books I found on there are now part of my Kindle library. If you'd like to support them there is an orange 'donate' button in the left hand side bar.

Forgotten Books

Unlike those I've previously mentioned this is not free. They're a London-based publisher who specialises in the restoration of old books. For £5.99 per month you can have full access to over 600,000 books (read online or download). If you love the book you can purchase a printed version, which I've done and been pleased with the quality.

When using such libraries be aware some of the content may not be in the public domain, so always check and if needed ensure you mention where the information was obtained from.

If you've discovered any other online libraries please share below and if enough are suggested I thank you now, as I'll use for my next blog post.  



Now for a blatant plug:

My latest short story collection Coyote Tales Retold is available on Amazon in ebook format. Also available Meet The Tricksters a collection of 18 short stories featuring Anansi the Trickster Spider, Brer Rabbit and Coyote is available as a paper back and an ebook.    

Saturday, 24 June 2017

My Love of Hedgehogs

A book about the friendship between a
mouse and a hedgehog
If you're a long-term follower of The Picture Book Den then you'll know I love hedgehogs. So much so that I've been rescuing them (on a very small scale from a 6' x 8' shed in my back garden) for the last 25 years (Herts Hogline). They're so much a part of my life that they even creep into my writing. In fact my first picture book 'A Book For Bramble' was inspired by them. I've also written a great many non-fiction magazine features about hedgehogs and this year they star in my latest collect of 8 retold traditional tales (Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm) and my latest picture book written as co-author with hypnotist Chris Caress called 'Harvey's Big Sleep.' 
A picture booked aimed at helping
children to sleep

As I write this post and if you're reading this within a couple of weeks of my pressing the publish button, I'm hand rearing six hoglets. So rather than tell you something about picture books I've decided to do something a little different. I'm going to turn you all into hedgehog geeks, so you'll know exactly what to do to help our dwindling hedgehog population. Quick fact: hedgehog numbers in the 1950s-60s were an estimated 30 million. Today that has plummeted to 1 million (a faster loss than the loss of the world's tigers). So here are a few ways you can help our hogs:

Just a few days old. For scale
that's a fifty pence under one of them.    
  • If you have a pond with steep sides then fit a ramp.
  • Keep netting at least 15cm (6") off the ground.
  • Leave out food and water. This can be special hedgehog food, tinned cat/dog food (non-fishy flavours) but NEVER bread and milk. To avoid cats eating the food buy or make a feeding station.
  • Always check under hedges and in long grass before cutting.
  • Pick up elastic bands or hair bands, cut up and put into a bin. These and prickles don't mix well.
  • To avoid hedgehogs making a nest in your shed/garage, stable or tack room keep the door closed at all times.
  • Do not use slug pellets; find safer alternatives.
  • Always check a bonfire before you light it.
  • Provide shelter by buying or making a hog home
  • Hedgehogs out during the day are highly likely to need medical help a.s.a.p. so contact British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice.
  • Never treat for fleas; pet flea solutions are lethal to hedgehogs.
  • During autumn and winter small hedgehogs (under 600 grams) are too small to hibernate, so need to be rescued.
As this is the height of the breeding season the BHPS provide the following advice on nesting females and hoglets:

If you accidentally disturb a nest, try to restore it quickly and without too much fuss.  Check with a piece of screwed up piece of paper to see whether mum is returning, they all react differently, some move the babies over several days, a few have been known to kill them whilst others just abandon them.  If the nest is in a place where it cannot be left, catch the mother before the babies as she will be the most mobile.  Place her in high-sided box with some of the bedding from the nest and then slip her babies in with her.  Contact the BHPS to find a local contact who can advise and if necessary take in the family.  Do not release them somewhere yourself as the mum is very likely to abandon them, given the amount of disturbance she has endured.

First taste of puppy food
Last but not least if you're concerned about your local visiting hedgehog, need advice or find an orphaned, sick or injured hedgehog, contact the BHPS (01584 890801)  they can give general advice and perhaps details of a local hedgehog rehabilitator that you can contact.

If you've reached this far, thanks for reading and please do share this far and wide. Hedgehogs need as many friends as they can get.



Now for a blatant plug:

My latest collection of short stories featuring Hedgehog is available on Amazon in eBook format and as a paperback.

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

At Last My New Book - Coyote Tales Retold

I don't normally plug a book but that's exactly what I'm doing today. The reason is I've been working on this book for over a year and it's just so nice to see it up and selling on Amazon. It features a traditonal trickster character, Coyote. Unlike my picture books 'Coyote Tales Retold' is aimed at the older reader and at the moment is only available as an ebook. However you don't have to have an ereader (Kindle) to read it. By simply downloading a free app (the link for this app can be found on the right hand side of this page) you can still download and read on your PC or Mac.

The book contains eight retold traditional Coyote tales which have been enjoyed for generations by the first peoples of America. Whilst researching these stories I discovered that it was traditional to enjoy them during the winter months only, hence its release in October.

The book contains the following stories:

  • Coyote, Bear and the Four Seasons
  • Coyote Places the Stars
  • Coyote, the Dancing Mice and the Old Elk Skull
  • Coyote, Mouse and Elk
  • Coyote Helps Mouse Fool Owl
  • Coyote, Fox and the Fishing Hole
  • Coyote and Turtle Outwit Beaver
  • Coyote and the Stranger
To purchase from the UK Amazon site click here
To purchase from the US Amazon site click here.

I hope you enjoy!


Friday, 28 August 2015

Book Authors Resale Rights (BARR)

I recently stumbled across an old news piece (16/06/14) released by the ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collecting Society) stating they had teamed up with Book Barn International (a second hand book seller) were launching a pilot scheme that would compensate authors when a second-hand version of their book was sold. This system is known as the Book Authors Resale Rights (BARR) and basically pays a small percentage of the sale price to the original author.

At present authors receive nothing on the resale of their book even if the book is still in print, which obviously means they're losing income from sales of their books when sold new. This collaboration between the ALCS and BBI will mean authors will receive an income from second-hand books sales alongside their regular payments from the ALCS.

I must admit it has always been a niggle of mine that under certain circumstances film makers earn when their film is watched, actors receive repeat fees, composers and musicians earn when their work is sold. Yet the hundreds of thousands of second-hand books sold each year earn the writer nothing, even though the copyright on these books is often still owned by the author. 
Out of curiosity I visited Amazon to see how many second-hand copies of my last two picture books were available. I discover there were 5 paperback copies and 4 hardback copies of Dog Did It  for sale and 7 paperbacks and 1 hardback of Bad Manners Benjie for sale. I know we’re not talking huge numbers here. However many authors including myself have seen income drop by 29% since 2005. It is also a stark reality that only “a handful of highly successful authors make a very good living; for the majority, earning from writing falls well below subsistence levels" and nearly 90% of writers now need to earn money from other sources other than writing. Unfortunately I’m one of those 90% so every penny earned from the sale of my books really does count.

In a recent update (30/07/15) William Prior, founder of Book Barn International states "I have tried to persuade Book Barn International’s competitors to adopt BARR. They all tell me they see the justice and point of the scheme, but either their accountants or their commerciality won’t sanction it." Come on folks without us you wouldn't have a product to sell and without our small slice of the pie many of us may have to give up writing in a bid to find an alternate way of making a living. 

To round off this post I urge everyone to source (when ever possible) their second-hand books from Book Barn International and show your support for the BARR system. Also if you have any family or friends who have sway with any second-hand book sellers support the cause and have a chat with them, see if you can talk them into putting 'justice' before profit.   

Last but not least I'd like to thank William Prior for his continued fight on our behalf.     

Lynne Garner

Monday, 20 April 2015

Mixing Story Sacks With Picture Books

We all know (I hope) that reading stories is an invaluable experience for young children. It helps them develop a wide range of important skills including developing their listening and communication skills. But many people seem to stop there with picture books but introduce a story sack to the equation and the learning opportunities expand hugely. A story sack offers opportunities for active, involved, cross-curricular learning. They help bring stories to life and offers practical ideas that support the differing interests and learning styles of young children.
So what is a story sack? 
It's a large cloth bag containing a picture book with supporting materials that stimulate language activities and make reading a memorable and enjoyable experience.
How do you make a story sack? 
Simply find a cloth bag to serve as the sack (even an old pillow case will do) and fill with some or all of the following materials (remember to keep appropriate for the needs and abilities of your child).
  • A copy of the book
  • A CD or DVD of the story, if you can find one (link below to my first picture book A Book For Bramble
  • Related non-fiction books e.g. for my book A Book For Bramble you could explore the life of mice and the other creatures that appear in it - rabbits, squirrels, owls and various bugs etc.
  • Models of characters (soft toys are ideal) and objects from the story for example from my book The Best Jumper you could include (for older children) chunky child friendly knitting needles and wool
  • Activities or games relating to the story - often renaming a favourite traditional game will help you achieve this for example a noughts and crosses game can be easily changed if you use images of the characters as counters
  • Themed art and craft items - Pinterest can you your friend here
  • Linked activity cards - see below
Activity cardsAn activity card lists ideas for things to do based on the book, this could include questions, for example using my book Bad Manners, Benjie! you could ask:
  • What was your favourite bit?
  • What bad manners did Boris have?
  • What good manners did Benjie have?
Or why not write a single activity on a piece of paper, fold it up and place in a jar or small cloth bag. Mix the ideas up then encourage your child to close their eyes, pick one, unfold the paper and read what the activity is. Then complete the task or activity it suggests. Your child can suggest these ideas or you could create your own as a surprise. Activities could include:
  • Enjoy a themed crafting session
  • Make up a song or poem based on something that happens in the story
  • Enjoy the same activity the character did in the story for example go to the park just like Boris, Benjie and Dog did in Bad Manners, Benjie!
I hope you can see what fun you can have with a story sack and this post has given you a few ideas. If you have a few ideas I've not included above please do share.