Sunday, 14 June 2020

Classic Novel Word Cloud Quiz

Since the first week of lockdown, my family have been getting together with a group of college friends for a weekly Zoom quiz. Each quiz is usually made up of several themed rounds and after thirteen weeks of quizzing, themes are getting increasingly inventive. This week I prepared a round of word clouds created from classic novels, which I thought I'd share here too.

Each of the word clouds below was generated from the complete text of a classic novel. The more often the word appears in the novel, the bigger the word appears in the cloud. Common words (such as "the", "a" "and") are excluded. The shape of each cloud is also a clue to the novel. The shapes make guessing the novel relatively easy, so to claim a point, you must be able to name the novel's author as well – and no half points for getting one but not the other!

The novels were all taken from Project Gutenberg's top 20 most downloaded ebooks for the last 30 days (at the time of compiling) and the word clouds were generated using the word cloud creator at wordart.com


Click on each image to reveal the answer

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How did you do?

10On cloud nineYour knowledge of classic literature is exemplary.
7–9Cloud-burster: You know your Stevenson from your Shelley.
4–6Cloudy with sunny spells: Could do better, but not too shabby.
1–3Under a cloud: You need to brush up on your classics.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A PRESENT FOR ROSY • New UK Picture Book


I have a new picture book coming out in hardcover in the UK today! A Present for Rosy is illustrated by Polly Noakes and published by Walker Books. The story follows the ups and downs in an unlikely friendship between a dainty bird and a burly bear and is the eighth picture book I’ve done with Walker books. The previous seven, starting with Bringing Down the Moon, were all created with the wonderful illustrator Vanessa Cabban. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in 2014; you can read a short tribute I wrote about Vanessa here.

A Present for Rosy was written in
memory of illustrator Vanessa Cabban.

When Walker Books encouraged me to write a new picture book for someone else to illustrate, I decided I would try to write a story that was in memory of Vanessa. Vanessa had suffered from depression, which I’ve also had some experience of, and I started writing a story called Rabbit’s Bright Spark that explored this theme. However after a year of working on various unfinished drafts I put it aside as the story felt too sombre and melancholy – which were not qualities I readily associated with the Vanessa I’d known.

When I started afresh a while later, I took a different approach and tried to write something that captured the nature of my friendship with Vanessa. The two of us came from very different backgrounds and, although we agreed on a lot, we had very different perspectives on some issues. One of the reasons I valued our friendship was that we were able to exchange our views frankly and accept each other’s differing opinions – a quality that’s become rare in recent years. So I wrote a story, initially titled Rosy and Rory, about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a bird who explore their forest home together.

The story is not autobiographical in any literal sense; neither I or Vanessa are meant to be either Rosy or Rory, but it draws on conversations I had with Vanessa and reflects the ups and downs our friendship had over the years.

When I finally had a draft I was happy with, I sent it to Nic Knight, who had edited the last couple of books I’d done with Vanessa at Walker Books. Much to my relief, Nic loved the story, but it was a while before Walker accepted it and even longer before we found an illustrator who was right for the characters and setting.

Polly Noakes has done a wonderful job of bringing Rosy and Rory and their woodland world to life. The beautiful spread below, with Rory discovering the waterfall and the fireflies is a favourite of mine and Nic’s.


Polly has shared some of her development work for the firefly illustration on her instagram account (click the arrows on the side of the image below to view the other images).



Polly tells me this was not intentional, but the way that Rory and the moon are both shown among the branches of a tree echoes a detail from one of Vanessa’s illustrations for our first book, Bringing Down the Moon.

A detail from one of Vanessa Cabban's illustrations for Bringing Down the Moon.

Polly created this gorgeous illustration of a rainbow for the end of the story.


When I wrote the story, four years ago, I could not have foreseen that the image of a rainbow would have the resonance it has now, as the book is published in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. As I write this, the windows of many of the houses in my neighbourhood and across the UK are decorated with children’s paintings of rainbows, created as signs of hope during the current lockdown when families are having to stay at home. A Present for Rosy is a story about companionship and finding beauty in the world around us, gifts that many of us have learnt not to take for granted in the last few months. 


Here's a trailer I made for the book.



You can see and hear the whole book in this read-along video
(available online until 22 July 2020).


And download Rosy's Forest Maze sheet and Rory's Rainbow colouring sheet
by clicking on the images below.

Rosy's Forest Maze

Rory's Rainbow Colouring Sheet

Buy this book at amazon UK