Engaging reluctant readers Reading for pleasure

How can I encourage my child to love reading?

We all know reading is a fundamental life skill.

Many of us are aware that children who read for pleasure are more likely to be happier, have better mental well-being, achieve their potential academically, and develop skills like empathy and creativity. (If you’re interested, there’s more about this here on the Literacy Trust’s website.)

But what can YOU do to help your child LOVE reading?

How can you help your child see reading as a pleasure rather than a chore?

What can you do if your child insists they JUST DON’T LIKE reading?

Here are my top ten tips, drawn from experience as a mum, a children’s author-illustrator, a former leader of parent/carer baby/toddler story sessions, and an ex-KS2 teacher:

1. Start early

Introduce books when your child is a tiny baby, and make time every single day to share books with pictures.

As well as helping your baby to hear the rhythm of language, and develop speaking and listening skills, reading to your baby is a brilliant way to give them comfort, attention, stimulation and happiness. It also starts them on their journey to becoming a reader.

2. Establish reading as a habit

As your child becomes a toddler, keep reading aloud to them regularly. If you can, visit a library at least once a fortnight and borrow a wide selection of books. Most libraries allow you to borrow 20 books at a time for free! Pop along to story sessions and let your toddler see their peers enjoying books. For reading to become a loved habit, repetition is the key.

3. Extend the reading fun

Make-up (or Google) creative activities based around a book your child has enjoyed.

As a leader of community book-based toddler sessions, I found that arts and crafts, physical activities and games helped to maintain a love of books.

Here are six easy ideas to get you going:

  1. Make the telescope from Nick Sharratt’s There’s A Shark In The Park.
  2. Potato print Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  3. Make some Paper Dolls after reading Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb’s beautiful book.
  4. Go on an ACTUAL Bear Hunt after reading Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s well-loved rhyming book.
  5. Make a fruit salad together after reading Oliver’s Fruit Salad by Vivien French and Alison Bartlett.
  6. Have a game of Hide & Seek like Frank and Bert in Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s brilliant book.

4. Don’t get too hung up on your child’s school reading scheme

As a mum, I know this one well!

When your child starts school, if they ever appear reluctant to engage with their levelled reading scheme book, why not try to de-stress the whole ‘let me listen to you read’ situation by…

  • MODELLING (aka YOU read the book)

This approach, particularly if you can get your child to follow the text as you read, has huge benefits (and it’s certainly better than an argument/meltdown). You could even make purposeful errors. Not just for them to correct, but to show you’re not perfect either


Start with a word each, then a sentence each, progress to a paragraph each. Try taking turns where one of you only has to read the dialogue. Eventually, take turns reading a page each. Always pile on the praise.


Silly voices and different accents always go down well, but anything goes with this one as long as some reading happens! Can you read this while standing on your head? Try reading this sentence backwards.

  • RELAXING school’s ‘RULES’

Forego reading scheme books now and then in favour of visiting the library, buying a comic/magazine to share, or introducing your child to a funny book you know will make them laugh (This was a game-changer for us – I’ve blogged about it here). Remember, variety is the spice of life and ALL READING COUNTS!

5. Let children choose their own books

I’m a firm believer in free choice when it comes to books.

So what if your child chooses a book that’s too hard for them? You can read it to them.

It doesn’t matter one iota if your child keeps choosing the same book, or the same author, or keeps picking books you believe are ‘too young’ or ‘too silly’ for them. Reading for pleasure is about free choice and enjoyment. Once a child develops a love for reading, I guarantee they’ll widen their preferences.

6. Find books that represent your child

Representation is a key factor in a child’s reading for pleasure journey.When a child sees themselves in a book (situations, families, heritage, appearances, identities etc.) they feel validated, and their self-confidence sky-rockets as they realise they’re not alone.

Find books your child can relate to and give them the opportunity to read them. (I’ve blogged about this in relation to rainbow families previously.)

7. Engage in Bookish chatter

Talk to your child about books and what they’re about. Ask your child what they did/didn’t like about a book. Let them speak freely so you get a real sense of what kind of books they are enjoying. Ask your child what they’d really love to read a story about, then research if one exists. (Twitter is a great tool for getting answers and recommendations.)

8. Find books that link to your child’s interests and hobbies

Whether non-fiction or a brilliant story, a child who loves football but hates reading, is more likely to read a book about football than a science-fiction book about a time-travelling porcupine.

If your child professes to dislike reading, but loves Minecraft or Lego or Roblox, find a book that aligns with their passion.

A child in a school I visited as an author recently spoke with passion about a book about F1 cars. Admittedly, he loved the pictures, but he was reading plenty of words too. And, importantly, enjoying reading.

9. When you know your child is capable of reading independently, don’t stop reading aloud to them

Every child is, of course, different. But, for as long as they’ll let you, read aloud to them at bedtime. This is your opportunity to introduce different genres, start conversations, laugh, cry, hide under the covers together! It won’t last forever, so my advice is to do it for as long as they’ll let you.

10. Be a reading role model

Visibly read for pleasure yourself. Not just at night in bed where no one knows you’re doing it.

And, to finish, four, ‘PLEASE DON’TS’ from me:

To avoid shattering confidence, please don’t tell your child they are ‘too old’ for a book.

Whatever your personal thoughts, please don’t tell your child they’ve chosen a girls’/boys’ book.

When things get stressful (and I say this with particular regard to school reading scheme books) please don’t pile on the pressure or lose your temper.

However hard it feels, please don’t give up. If you’re reading this blog, you’re obviously doing your best and that’s all you can do.

Reading for pleasure Representation

Why is representing rainbow families in children’s books so important?

It’s no secret that I’m passionate about the representation of rainbow families in children’s books. Indeed, a conversation with my son about the lack of positive representation (particularly in funny books) was my starting point for The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series which I’ve previously blogged about here.

In my opinion, the answer to this question is:

A. to give children with two mums or two dads the choice to read a book that reflects their reality


B. to help children from more traditional family units to broaden their understanding of the world.

But why?

According to the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s ‘Reflecting Realities’ report (2020), representation is the key to successful reading for pleasure (another of my passions).

When a child sees themselves in a book, they feel validated, their self-confidence sky-rockets as they realise they’re not alone. Moreover, they’re more likely to read for pleasure and, if this habit is sustained, they’ll have better life chances, get better grades and report higher levels of wellbeing (OECD). 

So given that in 2019 (according the ONS) there were 212,000 same sex families in the UK (and three years on, this figure will surely be greater), representing rainbow families is key to reading for pleasure for a large number of children.

That’s the ‘mirror’ element of reading.

But reading about people who are different to you, is of equal importance. This is where ‘windows’ come in.

To be able to read about life from another person’s perspective, helps children to make sense of the world around them. When a reader from a family with a mum and a dad reads a book that contains a rainbow family, they learn to empathise and accept. Essential conversations are sparked which can often lead to a deeper understanding of ‘different’ and a celebration of the many similarities that unite humans.

So, in summary, from picture books for babes in arms, right through to longer reads for older children, books have a huge role to play in helping youngsters to understand our world. Whether that’s to boost an individual’s self-esteem, to help nurture empathy for different, or just to cement the fact that all family units, whatever they look like, are valid, worth writing about, normal.

Can you recommend any great children’s books that contain positive representation of same sex parents?

Yes! BookTrust has some marvellous suggestions on these pages:

Middle Grade recommendations (age 7-11ish)

Younger readers

And here are a few recommendations from me:

My Daddies written by Gareth Peter, illustrated by Garry Parsons – a rhyming picture book adventure that includes a celebration of adoption and is perfect for introducing children to a family with two loving fathers.

Love Makes a Family written and illustrated by Sophie Beer – a board book depicting a wide range of families and what they may typically do on a daily basis.  I love this book’s main message: the one thing that makes every family is love.

The Pirate Mums written by Jodie Lancet Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry  – an adventure picture book that helps children to embrace uniqueness – whether that’s because you have two mums, or that your parents are pirates!

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding written by Sarah Brannen, illustrated by Lucia Soto – an uplifting celebration of love in all its forms.  I vividly remember my nephew worrying I might not have time to play when I told him I was getting married!

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. (3 books) written and illustrated by me! – think Wimpy Kids meets Tom Gates, but with a witty female protagonist who, incidentally, has two mums and was adopted as a baby.

The Last Firefox written by Lee Newbery, illustrated by Laura Catalan – a fantasy tale about finding your own courage with lovely representation of an adoptive family with same-sex parents (two dads).

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It by Susie Day – an exploration of masculinity told via an exciting adventure and including a family headed up by two fathers.

Proud of Me by Sarah Hagger-Holt – a lovely coming of age story with multiple LGBT themes, told from the point of view of twelve year old siblings Josh and Becky who have two mums.


What was World Book Day Like for you?

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with all the wonderful World Book Day (AKA World Book Fortnight!) activities and events I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in.

Schools, libraries, theatres, bookshops – thank you so much for having me.

Audience participation in Answer The Question Before 🙂

It’s been completely brilliant to see children so enthused about books – laughing, sharing tales, dressing up as Billie, asking some inciteful questions and, best of all, telling me how much they love my series.

#Authorgoals – a potato of my protagonist – Billie Upton Green

Here are some of the most popular questions I got asked over the last couple of weeks and some short and sweet answers in case you’re interested:

When did you write your first book?

When I was seven. It was completely magpied from a book I loved to re-read when I was this age: About Teddy Robinson by Joan Robinson. Mine was called About Teddy Carney. The teddy lost his leg, played tennis and got a cap with the number 88 on it. Deep.

Practise makes…better…

What’s your favourite biscuit?

A question I love and one I often answer thus: A Tunnock’s Tea Cake – brilliantly dismantle-able; delicious to boot. Oddly, it doesn’t feature in TOBLA’s Biscuit Laws. Yet.

The first five Biscuit Laws in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.

What inspired you to start writing?

  1. My mum. She wrote funny poems about my family and I loved her reading them to me.
  2. A teacher at High School called Mrs Gray who gave me tons of positive feedback and encouragement about my penmanship.
My lovely mum (and toddler me)

Have you had any other jobs?

Yes, many! Here’s a few of them: family learning tutor, KS2 teacher, working in a shoe shop, working in a bank, bid-writer, project manager, leaflet deliverer.

Here’s me working as a project manager on a gardening project

Why did you write this series?

I wanted to make sure that my children (and subsequently children all across the country/world) had the option to read a funny and interactive book that featured a main character who was happily adopted by two mums – because that’s what my son wanted when he was 10.

There are currently three books in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series. You can order them here if you like!

How long does it take to write a book?

Tricky. For me, writing a first draft might take about four months (predominantly working 9.30-2.30 Monday to Thursday). But the rest of the process takes much longer – working with an editor to make everything shine, the illustration process etc. It can take over a year for a book to get from an idea in my head to being available in a shop.

Some of the books I’ve recently signed for Ebb & Flo bookshop

How old are you?

I like to answer this question, and the one about how long I’ve been writing, with a maths problem.

My age is 9 x 5, half of 90, three lots of 15

I started writing stories when I was seven. That was in 1983.

(This detail is correct as at 13th March 2022!)

Me and Rachel – the wonderful children’s bookseller at Waterstones in Warrington. Say cheese!

Do you have any tips for writing funny books?

Keep a notebook handy. When you see/hear/think of something funny, write it down for reference. Test your material out on your intended audience. Be prepared to make some drastic cuts!

A child laughing…I think because she’s been allowed to dismantle a custard cream in class.

What’s your favourite book?

I honestly don’t have one. I love reading all sorts of books. When I’m asked this question by children, I often recommend a book I’ve recently read and enjoyed. This week I read a couple of advanced reader copies of books I loved, both of which are out later in 2022: Secrets of An Undercover Activist by Nat Amoore and My Name is Sunshine Simpson by G.M. Linton. I do love realistic, contemporary stories with humour and heart.

#authorperks …publishers send you early reader copies of brilliant books like this.

Can you tell us a joke?

My answer here varies. Here’s an oldie, but a goodie: Knock knock. (Who’s there?) Europe…

I’d like to finish this blog with some HUGE thank yous to the following schools and organisations for inviting me to connect with readers during this bookish time of the year:

Orpington Library Chatterbooks group, The NENE Trust schools, Tameside Libraries, Albany Academy, Coleham Primary School, Horwich Parish C of E, St Joseph’s RC Primary, Woodside Junior School, Chorley Theatre, Ebb & Flo Bookshop and all the schools in Chorley who attended my World Book Day live event either in the theatre or via the livestream, Boldmere Primary, The Vineyard School, Hull Schools Library Service, Hampshire Schools Library Service.

Engaging reluctant readers Reading for pleasure

Why do your books appeal to reluctant readers?

I’ve received many marvellous messages from parents, guardians and teachers thanking me for igniting a love of reading in their reluctant readers. Such correspondence delights me, because it was my own son’s MAHOOSIVE reluctance to read that inspired the format and content of The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series.

So, in brief, here are five reasons I think my books appeal to children usually disinclined to choose to read for pleasure:

  1. Early attention-grabbing content
  2. Short chapters easily finished in one sitting
  3. Dynamic content
  4. Laughter and jokes
  5. A relatable (and inspirational) protagonist

Allow me to expand…

  1. Early, attention-grabbing content

The first few pages of a book are important for all readers. For children disinclined to read for pleasure, grabbing and maintaining their interest in the initial pages is, perhaps, vital.

Will I read the rest of this book?

Where children who love to read might enjoy an atmospheric, descriptive build up, reluctant readers (my own son being a prime example of this) are inclined to abandon perfectly wonderful books if nothing has piqued their interest by page four.

Other people have commented on this aspect of my series:

“My 7-year-old is a hard sell… books have to grab him immediately. We could hear him laughing while he was in bed reading this. It’s a triumph. Thank you”


“I have an 8-year-old reluctant reader… hadn’t read anything willingly for well over a year… from page 1 I could see her interest piqued… Tonight when I finished reading to her, she took the book from me and read a couple of pages to herself whilst giggling at the content…It’s early days but you may just have got my lovely girl’s reading mojo back on track.”


2. Short chapters easily finished in one sitting

The feeling of accomplishment should not be under-estimated. I’ve never come across a child who wasn’t thrilled to have found a book they actually enjoyed reading. And a proudly announced, ‘I’ve finished A WHOLE CHAPTER!’ is a moment to be celebrated.

My daughter usually has to be bribed to read. The short chapters kept her going. She read this whole book without complaint and immediately asked me to order the sequel. Thank you.”


“Hasen has finished your book and absolutely LOVED it! Thank you so much for writing a book which has ignited a love for reading in some of my reluctant readers.”

KS2 Teacher

3. Dynamic content

For many so-called reluctant readers I have taught over the years, a full page of text was a real turn-off. Even if the story was gripping, even if I read the opening chapter to pique interest in a book I knew they could read and I thought they’d enjoy, some children (especially those who were also struggling readers) just felt too overwhelmed by dense paragraphs of words page after page, so gave up.

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series is purposefully packed with doodles, interactive pages and activity ideas – often viewed by reluctant readers as a nice little reading break despite the reading skills these parts of the story involve (Shhh)!

Lots of reading here!

“The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. is immense fun and is the first book I have read in a single sitting in a long time!”

Louie Stowell, author of many great books for children including The Dragon in the Library and Loki


Through funny speech bubbles, daft doodles, blatant jokes and the odd amusing hyperbole, The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series is intended to make children laugh. In my experience, the LOL-factor can be a magnet for many reluctant readers as books are often competing with games consoles/phones. Certainly, my son always had a better entertainment option unless it was bedtime. As a parent to three would-be screen-addicts, these recent tweet made me VERY happy:

“Awab is really enjoying his new book and was very proud of himself this morning. ‘Miss, I am already on page 111 and I didn’t even go on my PlayStation last night!’”

“Daughter got a copy for her birthday and hasn’t put it down since! Even choosing book over Nintendo she is loving it so much 😊

“Jen Carney writes family life with warmth, nuance and a phenomenal eye for detail. Plus, she knows how to make kids laugh . . . and I mean totally unreserved roll-on-the-floor belly laugh. Billie Upton Green is a firm favourite in our house.

Emma Mylrea, author of Curse of the Dearmad

5. A relatable (and inspirational) protagonist


Many reluctant readers, in my experience, enjoy reading about someone who’s a bit like them.

Billie Upton Green is a regular, present-day ten-year-old – no angel, but likeable. She lives with her family, she goes to school, she watches TV, she plays with her friends, she has disagreements, she visits relatives, she bemoans rules and obligations, she marvels at the extraordinary, and she’d much rather be doodling than writing. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself and the things she struggles with (namely spellings) and she’s very matter of fact about life. Writing about the everyday with no filter, and in a witty but easy to understand manner, she’s a character that proves to reluctant or struggling readers that everyone is smart in their own way.

“The character of Billie is wonderfully relatable, as well as likeable and funny. And Carney has done well to incorporate topical subjects, like diversity, same sex parent adoption and so on. This is life as youngsters know it today, and it’s great to see such issues treated with both humour and respect.”

Amazon reviewer

Class workshop feedback:

“I liked how she made spelling mistakes and drew things she couldn’t spell.”


“I’m going to invent my own biscuit laws later.”

The Cream-Filled Commandment

I dearly hope that one of my books might begin a reluctant readers’ ‘reading for pleasure’ journey because it was these kinds of books that turned my book-loathing son into someone who chose to read for pleasure. (Said son is now sixteen and reads a wide range of books, his current favourite genre being dystopian fantasy. So, to anyone currently struggling with a reluctant reader, my advice would be to pile them with books until they find their pleasure, then wait – they’ll branch out in their own time.)

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. and Basically Famous are available to buy now. They’re recommended for readers aged 7+ (note that plus – it’s very important, my son was eleven when he was reading books like this). If they hook your reader, the third in the series, Sister Act will be published on 3rd February 2022.

PS In addition to all of the reluctant reader hooks mentioned above, all the books in The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series carry important underlying messages surrounding being proud of who you are, accepting differences and navigating friendships.

Reading for pleasure

Why do all primary schools need well-stocked and properly staffed libraries?

As both a primary school teacher and a mum, I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact reading for pleasure has on children’s well-being and achievement. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, to discover evidence in this report, produced today by the National Literacy Trust, that children who read for pleasure have better life chances, get better grades and report higher levels of wellbeing.

What I was shocked by, however, was the fact that in many areas of the UK, one in four primary schools don’t have a school library, and that two in five lack the budget to buy new books.

How do the children at these schools access books they can read for pleasure?

And I mean properly read for the sheer pleasure of getting lost in an adventure, being transported to another world, connecting with a character so much that they can’t wait to discover what happens next. Where do these children find books they can see themselves in? How do they experience the real magic of reading that is lacking from many prescribed reading schemes?

Having thought about this, I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  1. Their local public library

BUT not all neighbourhoods have a library. And, even if they do, not all parents/guardians choose to take advantage of these wonderful free resources staffed by knowledgeable professionals on hand to help. (I take one or more of my children to our local library weekly, but we’re often the only patrons there.)

  • Their parents/guardians buy them books

BUT not many families can afford to do this regularly, especially those living in the areas cited as not having a school library.

  • Their teachers buy new books with their own personal funds.

As wonderful as regularly forking out for books for your pupils is (I’ve been there), this is not a solution for the masses.

So I guess the question becomes, if a school doesn’t have a well-stocked library, curated by an educator who is afforded the time to keep abreast of new, diverse, inclusive, exciting books, where do children whose parents/guardians can’t/don’t take advantage of public libraries, and can’t afford to buy books, get the opportunity to experience the pleasure of reading?


In hope, the report published today will highlight to the government the long-term benefits of proper investment in primary school libraries so that ALL children have the opportunity to reap the benefits of reading for pleasure.

PS If you’re reading this and you work at a school in the Black Country, Newham, Barking, Dagenham, Thurrock, Basildon, Harlow, Braintree Stockton-on-Tees, Gateshead, Redcar, Cleveland, Swindon or Blackpool, do check out this offer from my publisher, Puffin, who are currently recruiting schools for their World of Stories programme which equips schools with resources to help champion reading for pleasure (including 500 free books, training for library co-ordinators and National Literacy Trust membership).

My journey to publication

What inspired you to write the B.U.G. series?

It was a complaint from my son when he was about eleven that drove me to write the first draft of what has since been published by Puffin as The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series.

At the time, the only kinds of books he’d read independently were laugh-out-loud funny, highly accessible to even the most reluctant reader, and (more often than not) heavily illustrated. (I’ll blog about my experience of the power of funny books for reluctant readers in a subsequent post.)

His complaint: Why do the main characters in these types of books never have two mums or two dads?

After failing to source him such a book, I figured I’d write one.

In all honesty, my initial draft was for his eyes only. Avoiding his reading kryptonite of text-heavy paragraphs in favour of interactive pages, doodles aplenty and gags about spellings, I created a protagonist whose life vaguely represented his reality (adopted by two mums) and I was overjoyed when he told me he loved it.

Mission accomplished!

Or so I thought…

A couple of years later, I shared the manuscript with my then eight-year-old daughter and was thrilled to see her as engrossed as my son had been. It was when she expressed how much she’d love all children to have access to a mainstream ‘laugh about it in the playground’ book that illustrated how perfectly ‘normal’ ‘different’ families actually are, that I knew I needed to try my luck at finding a publisher!

Positive representation, I’ve learned, matters enormously to all children. At the time of my son’s complaint, our bookshelves were sagging under the weight of books featuring children who had been adopted and children with same sex parents. The problem was, they were all picture books we’d shared when our children were small, non-fiction books a little too earnest in their ‘you’re so special’ message, a bit depressing, or contained too many emotional triggers.

We also had plenty of books that featured families very similar to ours as a matter of fact – manic parents making questionable packed lunches, children recounting school mishaps, curious family anecdotes and so on. But none of the main characters ever had same sex parents.

It was the light-hearted humour, combined with the honest, matter-of-fact, ‘this is who I am’ nature of Billie, the protagonist of The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series, that my children took to. Not only did it satisfy their hunger to see themselves in a book, it enabled them to verbalize how a book like mine could fill the gap they were both acutely aware was missing from their peers’ libraries – a funny ‘middle grade’ read that would incidentally expose all children to the normality of everyday life of our kind of family.

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. and Basically Famous are available to buy now. The third in the series, Sister Act will be published on 3rd February 2022.

I really enjoyed reading the adventures of Billie Upton Green (not Bug!!)! Billie is a delightful and relatable character, and her escapades are both funny and heart-warming. I particularly enjoyed the inclusivity in the text, and it’s a real joy to see such positive LGBTQ+ representation in children’s books. Jen has written a real treat for younger readers, and the artwork is fabulous, too!

― L. D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

Readers will love Billie’s adventures, and her funny, doodle-filled way of sharing them, as much as they love the Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid stories, and it’s great too to see such a warm celebration of diverse family life.

― LoveReading4Kids

Carney’s lively, upbeat Billie is a welcome inclusive addition to the world of illustrated diaries. Her two mums feel like people I know, her weariness at explaining their existence just as familiar – and Billie herself is a treat, from her passion for biscuits to her determined pursuit of the school thief. Fun, funny, and deceptively clever.

Susie Day, author of Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

brilliant, hilarious and heartwarming book! I’m pretty sure if I’d read this as a child it wouldn’t have taken me quite so long to understand and accept my own queer identity. Amazing for normalising same-sex parenting and adoption, completely laugh-out-loud funny and a feast for the eyes with lots of fun and engaging doodles. I loved it!

Abigail Balfe, author of A Different Sort of Normal
My journey to publication Tips for aspiring authors

How do you find a Literary Agent?

This post comes with a huge caveat…this is what worked for ME. I’m sure other writers will have differences of opinion.

So, five ideas for finding a literary agent (other than Googling ‘Literary Agents’ and spending a year sifting through your gazillion hits until you find your perfect match):

  1. Look in the acknowledgments of books you love. What does the author say about their agent? Even if it’s a different genre from what you write, chances are there’ll be another agent at the same agency who represents yours. This was how I found my agent – the perfect match for The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.
  2. Look at the websites of authors you admire. Their agent is usually credited somewhere. (Mine’s here!) Look them up. See if they’re open to submissions. Check what they’re looking for.
  3. You could use the big, fat, red Writers and Illustrator Handbook often seen as the industry standard. It lists publishers, agents etc. However, it goes out of date every year, so maybe check if your local library has a copy you can look at.
  4. Get yourself on Twitter. This is something I’ve only realised since entering the bookish world. Quite a lot of agents advertise what they’re looking for on social media. Search #MSWL or #opentosubmissions and see where it leads you.
  5. Similarly, look for hashtags like #Pitmad #pitwars (I’m sure there are many others) on social media. There are certain days in the year when you can plug your book to agents seeking new clients.

And five ideas for approaching the literary agent you’d love to represent you:

  1. Check their website for their specific submission guidelines. Some want three chapters and a synopsis. Others want to see the first 500 words.
  2. Stick to their rules and submission guidelines. Attach only the documents they ask for and make your email brief but compelling. Introduce yourself without going into your full life history, sum up your book in as few words as possible, state what genre it is and mention how many words it has. (Just my opinion, but I wouldn’t advise approaching an agent if your novel is unfinished; if they like the sound of it, you’ll want to keep the ball rolling.)  
  3. Wait. Try not to refresh your inbox every ten minutes. Good literary agents are busy people.
  4. I’d say it’d be okay to send a follow-up email a month later if you’ve not heard anything (unless their guidelines have a waiting time guide). And when I say ‘anything’, know that a holding email counts as something.
  5. Stalk them persistently*

*not recommended

Tips for aspiring authors

Do you have any top tips for aspiring young authors?

As a published children’s author, I’m often asked for advice that can be passed on to aspiring young authors. Likewise, ‘How do I become an author?’ is a frequently asked question during school visits I make. So, drawn from my own experience, here are my five top tips for how children with a passion for writing can improve their craft (downloadable for displaying on this page):

  1. Read

Reading other people’s books or stories is a super way of honing your own style. Reading a wide range of genres helped me to understand what kind of author I wanted to be. The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. is a contemporary, realistic, funny series – the exact kind of books I enjoy reading myself.

  1. Practise

Writing is just like learning to play the trumpet or improving your keepy-uppy score. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. I started writing stories when I was about seven. Look at this:

That’s the first book I ever wrote! Since then, I’ve written tons of stories, in all sorts of genres, for many different purposes. I’m in my 40s now and I can testify that, while practise doesn’t always make ‘perfect’, it certainly makes ‘better’.

  1. Challenge yourself

Ask your friends and family to say a random genre, a name, a problem and an everyday item. Try to write a short story that incorporates those prompts. Sometimes thinking outside of the box can be super-rewarding.

  1. Edit

Once you’ve written something you’re really happy with, put it in a drawer for at least a week. When you re-read it with fresh eyes, try to make your sentences super sparkly, lose irrelevant details, and make sure you’ve given enough detail so your reader can imagine your setting (smells, sights, tastes, what things feel like, noises) and how your characters are feeling. ‘Show, don’t tell’ really does help here: ‘Her shoulders slumped when she heard the news.’ gives a better picture than, ‘The news made her sad.’

  1. Ask

Ask someone you trust to read your stories. Ask them what they like and what they think could be better, then work on making further improvements.

Good luck with your writing. I look forward to seeing a book you’ve written on the shelves of my local bookshop in the future.

My journey to publication Tips for aspiring authors

What’s your journey to publication been like?

Let me take you back to when I was in my early twenties…

Welcome to the late-1990s! Oh look, there’s a Spice Girl.

I had a drama degree under my belt and was combining working as a teaching assistant with the odd acting job, but I’d never lost the love for writing that had been in me since producing this heavily plagiarized, cereal box-bound beauty circa. 1983!

In my spare time, fuelled by a desire to be part of the early movement of writing children’s books that featured under-represented family units, I wrote a YA novel I considered to be ground-breaking. After finding a copy of the Writers & Artists Handbook in my local library, I set about approaching a handful of small publishers directly.

Good voice, but no thanks

A couple responded to say they liked the book and that I had a good ‘voice’, one liked it but said it was too similar to something they were already pursuing, and the rest just sent impersonal rejection letters (yes letters, not emails – OMG, how old am I?). So I promptly gave up on that manuscript.

Advice for aspiring authors #1: Don’t give up just because a couple of people say no. As I’ve since learned, there could be many reasons for this and none of them might be ‘you’re rubbish at writing’.

Back to the drawing board…

Not quite ready to throw in the towel on my dream, I wrote a couple of middle grade fantasy novels, tried my hand at screenwriting, entered a few competitions, penned and illustrated some picture books, and tried again – using exactly the same approach. A couple of picture books got a bit of interest from small publishers who didn’t mind my direct approach, but nothing concrete ever happened.

Advice for aspiring authors #2: Literary Agents are worth their weight in gold. I wouldn’t try to by-pass this step if I had my time again.

Living hand to mouth

Without the funds to keep printing off reams of paper, I put my dream on hold, completed a P.G.C.E. and, in 1999, became a fully-fledged teacher, content to put my ‘little hobby’ to good use writing stories and penning plays for my classes to perform.

I don’t regret going into teaching. It was fun (if very hard work) and many of my experiences in the classroom will undoubtedly find their way into one of my books at some point. (Yes, I was THAT teacher – the one stifling giggles at assembly farts.)

Fast forward…

Fast-forward to 2016 and I’d taken a job with a Literacy Charity. Happily enjoying writing course materials and delivering community writing projects, my eldest (we’ll call him Biggy and he was eleven by this point) complained that the kinds of books he liked (funny, full of pictures, easy to read) never featured families that reflected his reality – adopted by two mums.

So I wrote one!

After he’d enjoyed it (phew), I contacted a well-known adoption charity to see if they’d be interested in publishing it. They responded to say that, although they’d enjoyed my sample, they felt it would suit a more mainstream publisher. That was nice to hear, but, as often happens, adulting took over, and the manuscript went up into the loft while real life continued.

I realise I’m meandering, but it’s relevant I promise.

Fast forward a bit more…

Oooo look, you’ve arrived in 2019! Remember 2019? The year face masks were only worn by dentists? Good times.

Anyway…by this point, I’d reached the ripe old age of 42 and was married with three children: Biggy (now aged fourteen) Middly (eight at that point) and Diddly (age two by then). I’d been working as a Bid Writer for a youth charity, but after Diddly’s arrival, and for a variety of reasons, chose not to go back to ‘work’.


A massive fan of thrillers, when Diddly started nursery, I decided to give novel writing another go by writing a ‘thriller’ of my own. I found it hard work, but I was so pleased with my end result I gave it to a few family members to get their thoughts. They had nothing but (completely biased) praise for my efforts. Right, I thought, I’m going to try again with the whole publisher thing.

Thank goodness I now have the Internet…

Older and a bit wiser, (and with the world now at my hands thanks to Google and Twitter) this time I spent time properly researching how aspiring authors manage to get their books traditionally published. I found out what different types of publishing terms meant, got my head around literary agents and their pivotal role in the industry, sent my manuscript off and crossed my fingers.

Nothing happened.

We’re getting to the turning point…

Shortly after that, Middly turned nine and I remembered the book I’d written for Biggy (told you that bit was relevant). That’ll give her a giggle, I thought.

It did. She was in hysterics. ‘I wish this was a REAL book mummy,’ she said (although she might have said mum, don’t quote me on that), ‘so I could take it in to school and all kinds of kids could see show “normal” families like ours are.’


Over the next few evenings, I tweaked the book here and there, cast aside the thriller I’d been agonising over and sent my revamped manuscript off to three literary agents I thought might be interested.

AND GUESS WHAT? Two actually were!

One of them (the super-splendid one I’d set my heart on, henceforth referred to as 007) asked me to bob down to London for a chat.

(There was no bobbing about it. I live in Northern England.)

Anyway, I went down and was delighted to find she was 100% my cup of tea – just as I’d imagined she would be after reading her MSWL (Manuscript Wish List – one of those terms I’d learned about in my research week). She ‘got’ my book so well and was already totally invested in my characters. I was bowled over. She wanted me, I wanted her, and a verbal agreement was struck there and then! YAY!

About a month after our meeting, having taken on board 007’s inciteful ‘tweaking’ advice, my manuscript went ‘on submission’ (i.e. 007 emailed it to appropriate editors at different-sized publishing houses).

Jolly holidays

Informing me she was off on her jolly holidays the following day, her parting comment was: ‘It might be weeks/months before anyone bites.’

And GUESS what happened THE VERY NEXT DAY?

I think it was probably a case of right book, right time, but I was lucky enough to gain interest in my series from a range of publishers. What followed was a fortnight of fun (including pre-empts and an auction and another trip to London which I’ll blog about another time) but, to get to the point, in September 2019 I was thrilled to sign a three-book deal with the wonderful Puffin team at Penguin Random House!

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. was published in April 2021 and the second book in the series, Basically Famous, in August 2021. The third in the series will be published in early 2022.

Advice for aspiring authors #3: Don’t give up your daydream!