Now that some lockdown restrictions are being lifted, bookshops are slowly beginning to reopen. I have been thrilled to call into some of my local bookshops to see Gracie for sale. I have signed copies of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest at the wonderful Ebb & Flo in Chorley and Write Blend in Waterloo, near Crosby.
Waterstones in Southport have a lovely handwritten recommendation next to my book while Waterstones in Blackpool have several copies of Gracie Fairshaw on display in their children's window and more copies on a table in the children's section.
I am also delighted that Bounce sales & marketing have selected Gracie Fairshaw and Blackpool to feature on a Staycation map matching popular holiday destinations with books set there.
Do please consider buying your copy from an independent bookseller and don't forget that many can order in books for you and some have online shops too.
I have also been to Blackpool to record three Detective Trail challenges for Get Blackpool Reading. The first is inspired by Blackpool Tower and Reginald Dixon, the second is about Blackpool Town Hall and Audrey Mosson and the third is about the North Shore Cliffs and animated tableaux.
Get Blackpool Reading is a community-driven campaign led by the National Literacy Trust in partnership with Blackpool Council and the Blackpool Opportunity Area. The project works with seven Blackpool schools.
I am delighted to be teaming up with Get Blackpool Reading for the launch of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest. I have recorded a Questions & Answers with Jill from GBR which will be uploaded at 10am on Thursday 2nd July. The questions were all set by Blackpool school children and I had great fun answering them.
My book has now been printed and copies are starting to be delivered. It is very exciting actually holding a finished copy in my hands! I am very proud to have my published book on my shelf along so many of my favourite children's authors.
One of my favourite parts of having a book published has been working with illustrator Jenny Czerwonka who created the fabulous cover for Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest.
I chatted with Jen to find out what the process was like from her point of view.
Hi Jen, could you tell us a bit about yourself.
I have lived in the Ribble Valley most of my life, apart from a few years living on the outskirts of London.
I love the Ribble Valley and the scenery, it's a very calming place with a lovely community, we are fortunate to live in such a beautiful setting. I have a daughter, two dogs, two cats and a fish which basically entertain us all every day. They are all bonkers! But great fun. I blame the owner for the animal's antics. Ha ha.
Can you tell me about your career so far ...
I have a BA Hons degree in business management with music, which I focused on when I was younger and later I went back to university and retrained. I chose Webdesign and Development BSc degree. It surprised my family and friends that I decided this choice, however, I felt it was an obvious choice as I needed more vital skills within technology, as websites are here to stay. I wanted to be part of that. I was considering an art degree but felt it would be hard to translate this into a job at the end of the degree, so chose technology instead.
From here I hopped over to the Arts. I'm currently working on an MA in Contemporary Fine Art again people think its a bit of a random choice; however, I have always been creative and previously just done art as a hobby before I started my own business.
I have split my work into three sections, Web designer, Commerical illustrator, then me as an artist. I have found over time this is the simplest way to put myself forward to clients as a freelancer. I use many techniques from adobe creative suite, traditional art supplies and just good old fashioned pencil and paper. For my own art practise I make my own pigment from soot, squid ink, nuts and avocado seeds! I have also been down to the river Ribble to choose some tiny pebbles that I have ground up into pigment. I then make the pigment into paints, it is relatively time-consuming but totally compelling too!! Also, I make paintbrushes from twigs, sheep's wool and from my dog's hair! Ha ha, I know it sounds a little old!!
I also use collage, photography and make short art films of my artwork. I paint mostly in oils (most homemade) and watercolour (handmade too), if I'm in a rush, I also use readymade oils and watercolours.
How did you become involved with the Gracie Fairshaw book?
I became involved with the Gracie Fairshaw book through the University of Central Lancashire (Uclaan) in Preston. A group of MA publishing students were advertising for an illustrator. I thought it would be an exciting project to get involved with and a great way to meet other people really. Also, to give me a challenge, I like setting challenges for myself! I had designed a book cover before, but not a children's book.
How did you go about designing the cover?
It is all about collaboration when you are working on a book cover - you have the author and the publishing team. I was given a brief with an outline of the styles and colours and the age range the book was for. Like every illustration job, sometimes it can be hard to interpret the brief accurately, so there were numerous drawings, (both hand-drawn and digital) and ideas for the book cover, I think I did around five different covers. From here, the publishing group decide on the final look, and we then head down that path.
I always hand draw to start with, this is then scanned into the computer. I use a mixture of programmes to complete each drawing. I use Adobe software, so photoshop, illustrator, my iPad with apps such as photoshop express, Fresco, adobe draw and adobe sketch. I'm a bit of an Apple fanatic and use my Mac, MacBook Pro and Ipad pro with the pencil. The designs get thrown from different programmes for different elements or look, it can seem quite random using so many applications, but I'm used to it now! Someone asked me what I used once how I worked, and I blew their mind on how I get to the final result!! But there is no right or wrong answer in how to create your illustration, you just have to go for it and without even realising you have your own way of working on getting to your final image.
For the Gracie Fairshaw book I have around 150 files on my computer all different illustrations and elements!
When Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest was selected for publication, the Uclan publishing team loved the design of the book and requested a few minor changes. I drew the silhouettes to give more details to the design, originally they were all flat black. I brought a new element that sits in the window of a shadowy character looking out of one of the houses. There were a couple of features that were removed from the final design, some birds in the sky and a Blackpool ride, having taken them away, the book cover looked cleaner in design. Again it's about collaboration and working together with people to get the final design. The font was also changed, the publishing house chose the font style as they had different commercial font than I have. You have to bear in mind with fonts that they are subject to copyright laws.
What did you learn about book design from the project?
Collaboration between all the different teams is key to getting a successful outcome. Using the final dimensions of the book from the beginning is very useful too. I have a book template that I created, and yes, you do need to use maths!! There is plenty of reworking the designs which are very time consuming, so always factor in time to change and revise the designs - I have learnt I always underestimate the time it takes to create an illustration- even now!
What did you enjoy most about designing the cover – what was the hardest part?
I love laying out the book cover when I have all the elements to create it, it comes alive! The hardest part is probably self-judgement, you can be your own worst enemy at times, I have to stop listening to myself at times!
How does it feel knowing your cover is going to be on bookshelves?
When I got the call from the publishing department, I nearly didn't answer the phone as I didn't know the number! I couldn't believe it was the publishers. I was totally thrilled and genuinely excited. I don't tend to tell people what I am up to, still, I have told my family and a few close friends - they are obviously thrilled for me, and I am going to frame the Gracie Fairshaw book when it is released and put it in the loo, so visitors to the house will see it!
What are you working on now?
I have just finished another book cover for you the pirate pet shop that I have been working on for the past six months. I have also collaborated on several photography projects, which involved making an outfit out of cardboard for me to wear in the pictures! I'm in the process of sourcing some fabric so I can make my own canvas frames for my own art, I want to go big in size for these, so I am going to be making the canvases myself before making my own traditional gesso and oil paint on my personal project. I also have several websites I am currently organising and working on for my clients and some new illustrations for Christmas.
My hopes for the future are to keep going with all three of my businesses, web design, commercial illustrator and artist. I would like to do more book covers as well. For my own art practise, I will be completing my MA in Fine Art in summer 2021. I would like to see them in a gallery at some point; however, it's not the be all and end all. I am also considering doing a PhD, but we will see if I have the time to fit this in with everything else!
Just being able to create things is my end goal really and to make my clients happy with my designs. It is truly satisfying to see your own creations printed and out in the world for people to see, that's definitely the best thing and more than I can ever wish for! It's just fabulous!
Illustrations by Jenny Czerwonka.
Barbara says: Susan Brownrigg conjurs up a glorious Golden Age, both of seaside resort Blackpool and of crime fiction. Gracie Fairshaw is a lovable and inclusive heroine every reader will root for.
The glitz of Blackpool’s heyday, a vile and vivid villain and a young heroine with heart: Gracie Fairshaw and the Mystery Guest will conjure up the past for young readers - while sending their parents and grandparents for a trip down Nostalgia Lane. Colourful, action-packed and uplifting.
A meticulously researched and vivid adventure. Susan’s love of Blackpool’s seaside heyday shines brightly from every page. A book sure to switch on and illuminate every child’s love of reading.
Anna Mainwaring is the author of two wonderfully funny teenage novels, Tulip Taylor and Rebel with a Cupcake published by Firefly Press.
Anna says: Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest is an exciting, fun and fast-paced adventure, crammed with mystery, unforgettable characters and more than a little bit of Blackpool magic. Perfect for fans of Katherine Woodfine.
Sara Grant writes for young readers (Magic Trix), teens (Chasing Danger, Mystery at the Ice Hotel) and young adults (Dark Parties, Half Lives).
Sara says: What's not to love about Susan Brownrigg's Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest. A mystery with a gutsy new hero set against the fascinating backdrop of 1935 Blackpool Illuminations Switch-on. Rip-roaring action with conjurors, conmen and a secret society. If you like Robin Steven's Murder Most Unladylike, make way for Gracie Fairshaw.
Marie Basting is the author of the magical and hilarious Princess BMX, perfect for younger middle grade readers.
Marie says: All the fun of the fair served up with a healthy dose of mystery and adventure! Travel back to Blackpool’s heyday for a magical rollercoaster of a ride that will have you gripping the lap bar as you root for Gracie and her friends on their quest to outwit Susan Brownrigg’s salty seaside villain.
Meticulously researched and sprinkled with just the right amount of nostalgia, Brownrigg conjures up the perfect setting for this traditional crime story that will appeal to fans of classic mystery and adventure stories.
Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest is set in Blackpool in 1935 during the run-up to the Illuminations Switch-On ceremony.
The plot was inspired by my childhood daytrips to Blackpool in the 1980s. I have fantastic memories of visiting the Illuminations and Blackpool Tower, especially the aquarium, circus and the lift to the top. I also loved going to the Pleasure Beach. My favourite rides were Noah’s Ark, River Caves, Alice in Wonderland and the Ghost Train. You can see pictures of me as a child in Blackpool in the gallery.
I wanted to write a book that highlights Blackpool’s incredible seaside heritage.
I love writing historical fiction and I was keen to feature real people, real events and real places. When I discovered a fifteen-year-old girl – Audrey Mosson – was the second person to perform the Illuminations Switch-On ceremony, I knew I had the spark for my story.
I also wanted a heroine who reflected my upbringing; she too would be Northern and working-class. Gracie Fairshaw was also inspired by my family. My mum uses a wheelchair but never lets her disability stop her from embracing life. Gracie was born with limb difference. My great grandfather who had his left arm amputated at the elbow during World War One.
UCLan Publishing is an independent, award-winning trade children’s publisher based at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. They have an innovative approach to publishing, combining the best in publishing education with exciting live projects. In 2019 I worked with three MA Publishing students who used Gracie for their final project. Artist Jenny Czerwonka designed the cover and created inside illustrations. Uclan Publishing's commercial arm then selected Gracie for publication.
Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest is now available for pre-order from Waterstones, Blackwells, Foyles, Hive, independent booksellers and Amazon UK.
ck to add an engaging title. High quality images go a long way in looking professional online.
One of the first guests was the author Charles Dickens who stayed at the hotel while on tour doing readings from his books. Dickens was unwell, reporting a weakness and deadness all on the left side. However his visit to the "charming sea beach hotel," improved his health and he wrote to his sister that he had enjoyed a "delicious walk by the sea" and had an improved appetite. Hotel staff reporting seeing Dickens kicking his hat along the sand like a football.
Many other famous people have stayed at the hotel over the years, including Jayne Mansfield, the Beatles, Fred Astaire and one of my favourites - Gracie Fields! (I wrote my degree dissertation on the Rochdale-born actress and named Gracie Fairshaw after her! Apparantly Gracie is the only guest who has been allowed to bring takeaway fish and chips into the hotel - and she insisted on eating them straight out of the newspaper. Of course Gracie was born over a fish and chip shop, so it is a lovely story! .
We also saw the lovely Louis XVI room which used to be an exclusive restaurant with a three month waiting list for a table! The Lancastrian Suite with its minstral gallery was used for buffet style dining but is now used annually for a racing pigeon auction. The record price for a bird being an incredible £74,000!
The Palm Court restaurant has lovely sea views and was popular for people wanting afternoon tea, it features some eye-catching chandeliers that used to be in the Lancastrian Suite.
The highlight though was being able to see the remains of the original turkish baths! The Burmantoft tiles date from 1898 and were covered up in the 1950s. Now they are being painstakingly uncovered and restored by Blackpool Civic Trust volunteers so can visitors can appreciate how oppulent these rooms used to be. The designs include scallop shells and diving pikes - you can see images of the tiles and the hotel's rooms in the gallery.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They by Michael Trainor (2002) is the world's largest dance hall mirror ball. It is covered with 47,000 mirrors and reflects the light as it slowly turns. Look carefully and you might spot me in the photo left!
Other artworks you can see include:
Waterwings - Bruce Williams, 2001.
The Sound of the Wind Looks Like This - Stephen Hurrel, 2002.
Desire - Chris Knight, 2001.
Glam Rocks - Peter Freeman, 2001.
The High Tide Organ - John Gooding, 2002.
The Frankenstein Project - Tony Stallard, 2001.
The Swivelling Wind Shelters - Ian McChesney with Atelier One, 2004. They look like whale tails!
You can also see a new art project Painting the Town where ten new colours inspired by Blackpool and residents' stories and memories have been created by artist Laura Shevaun Green. The colours have been called Ghost Train, Bandstand, Ballroom, Arcade, North Pier, Herring Gull, Salisbury Yellow, Tangerine Coast, Lawson Green and Sea Snail. These colours can be used by the community and Blackpool businesses to revitalise the town.
You can view more photos of the artworks in my gallery.
Then it was time to hop onto a heritage tram for a trip down to the much newer Starr Gate depot.
This was a real contrast. New, clean and rather sterile, but still fascinating.
Guide Phil explained the complex systems of keeping up to 16 flexity trams on the go and showed us the tally board where the rota is updated regularly.
We saw the 'Stable block' which is where all the trams are stored undercover overnight (at Ribgy Road the canopy is not large enough to allow all the heritage trams to be sheltered from the elements.) Then onto the engineering hall where repairs take place. It was very different from the set up at Rigby Road (which had a Heath Robinson feel about it!) Here for example it takes three hours not three weeks to fix a flat!
Starr Gate felt very modern and ordered, but it certainly didn't have the character of the older depot.
In the afternoon I went on a tour of Layton Cemetery. The guide told us about a number of interesting residents of Blackpool who are buried in Layton including a number who moved to the resort for health reasons but often died shortly after. We saw the grave of John Bickerstaffe (Blackpool Tower founder) and William Holland (Manager of Winter Gardens.) Bill Holland was buried in one of a number of Victorian 'safe' graves designed to keep out grave robbers.
We were also shown the graves of Anthony Karmy (grave pictured) who had one of the earliest Blackpool souvenir kiosks on a pier and animal keeper Jim Walms whose friend's disappearance may have inspired the poem The Lion and Albert. Jim was also the inspiration for Blackpool Tower's 'Jungle Jims' play area which closed recently. We also saw the grave of Mr Burton the inventor of the 'Wagon Wheels' (1948) while the delicious aroma of biscuits from the nearby factory filled the air!
It was also particularly interesting to see the grave of Afro-American historian George Washington Williams who spoke out against slavery in the Congo in 1890. I first learned about Williams while researching my Journey to the Okapi Forest book. Williams only lived in Blackpool for three weeks for the sea-air before his death.
Cemetery tours can be booked on request by contacting www.laytonfriends.org/
Gracie Fairshaw and The Mysterious Guest, my Blackpool children's book, was inspired by discovering that in 1935, Audrey Mosson a 15-year-old girl was asked to do the Illuminations Switch-on. Audrey, who had been crowned the Railway Queen, was the second 'star' asked to press the button.
I have had the great pleasure of seeing the Illuminations many times and have been up close to the Switch-on button, but I had never been to the actual Switch-on ceremony. So I was delighted when I won wristbands for this year's show. Unlike rainy 1935, the weather was warm and dry although I'd wrapped up just in case!
In 1935 the Illuminations Switch-on took place in front of Blackpool Town Hall. More recently the spectacular has taken place on the Tower Headland where the comedy carpet is. Security was high and a large area bordered off in front of the Tower for the event. There were tents selling drinks and food as well as mechandise.
The entertainment lasts for hours nowadays and includes performances by pop stars and dance acts. This year the Illuminations were turned on by classical singer Alfie Boe who is from Fleetwood. The countdown was so exciting, then when Alfie pressed the button a huge cloud of confetti burst and the lights illuminated including the Tower. Moments later fireworks shot out from the top of the Tower. It was brilliant! The town was bustling with families. Isn't it fantastic that this tradition continues to be so popular!
After lots of editing and feedback I have now completed my Blackpool set upper middle grade novel, Gracie Fairshaw and The Mysterious Guest.
I am now working on a new Blackpool book currently titled Trouble at the Tower. This has meant several more trips to Blackpool, including the local history centre where I have been using the microfilm readers to look at the Blackpool Gazette. I haven't done that in a very long time!
My sequel sees my main character becoming a local newspaper journalist - which is the job I used to have a long time ago! It's been a real trip down memory lane thinking back to my days as a reporter.
Of course I couldn't write a book set in the Tower without making a few trips there myself. I have been to the top of the Tower, ventured into the dungeon where the aquarium used to be, and watched the circus. I was also lucky to be able to join a tour of the Tower with the Blackpool Civic Trust. I was able to step into the circus ring and venture below where the animals used to be kept as well as seeing where the roof gardens used to be. It really is the most incredible building and is so inspiring.
I have very recently completed the first draft of a new children's book inspired by the discovery of the okapi at the beginning of the 20th century. Liberty and the Unicorn Trap is my fourth historical novel for children aged 10+. As part of the research I have been on an Okapi and Red River Hog experience at the Wild Place Project in Bristol. I got to meet Kibibi a female okapi, her calf, Ruby who was born in May, Lodja another female who is heavily pregant and Kivu a four year old male who was less shy than the females. I fed the okapi and the zookeeper kindly answered all my questions. I also fed two cheeky red river hog brothers who chased each other round. The okapi is related to the giraffe and has a long blue tongue like their relative. The stripes on their hind is individual to each okapi. I had a brilliant day at the Wild Place Project and would highly recommend a visit to see these endangered animals.
Here are two articles I have written for Words & Pictures. The first is about how my North West group celebrated 20 years of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in the British Isles. The second is a reflection on winning the Margaret Carey Scholarship last year and why I would encourage members of SCBWI to apply this year.
Last month, as one of the winners writers, I was invited to attend the launch of the Undiscovered Voices competition anthology. I was then invited to write an article sharing what my experience of the party had been for the SCBWI BI online magazine Words & Pictures. Here is what I wrote. Thanks to Candy Gourlay for the use of her photograph left.
I am thrilled to be able to tell you that I have been chosen as a winner in the SCBWI BI Undiscovered Voices competition. I would like to thank SCBWI BI especially the UV team and sponsors Working Partners Ltd for organising a fabulous opportunity for writers and illustrators to be noticed. The winning opening chapters from the 12 winning writers and the winning 9 illustrations are available in the UV2016 anthology. You can download a copy for free or buy a printed book for £5.99 here.
I am delighted to tell you I have been longlisted in the SCBWI BI Undiscovered Voices 2016 competition.This competition is for unpublished and unagented children's books writers and illustrators living in the EU. The shortlist will be announced in January 2016.
I am chuffed to announce that I have been awarded the Margaret Carey Scholarship 2015 for fiction. This scholarship is awarded by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators British Isles. The news was announced on the SCBWI WI online magazine Words & Pictures. The award is made in memory of children's writer and illustrator Margaret Carey (pictured). The award is judged on a combination of writing merit and need.
The first few lines of a book are often said to be the most important. SCBWI BI's Words & Pictures online magazine now run an Opening Lines challenge. I decided to send in the beginning of my The Girl Who Cried Owl book in for some feedback. Find out what agent Shelley Instone thought of my submission (no3) here.