November 2019

One of the best things about my day job as a museum learning manager is that every day is different. One

minute I'm teaching children about the medieval ages, the next I'm dressed up as Goldilocks! My role includes delivering a range of education sessions and delivering a host of family events. One of the museum's busiest times is Hallowe'en when we put on a mixture of fun spooky themed daytime and evening activities. After dark families gather for pumpkin carving, a spooky storywalk, potion making and a chance to meet a variety of animals.
So imagine my delight at the end of the night when I was helping tidy up and pack away when Lyndsay from Animals Take Over asked if I would like to meet a rat!
I love animals - especially mustelids and rodents - so I was delighted to hold Matilda a beautiful white rat. One of the characters in Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest - George - has a pet rat called Fred and while I have owned a gerbil and a hamster, I have never owned or even held a rat before! Matilda was very well behaved and loves to meet people. She is very curious and I think she looks like she's about to talk in this photograph that my colleague Paul took of us!

Susan in Rigby Road tram depot

October 2019

On a very wet Sunday morning I enjoyed a fascinating September Spectacular double depot tour by Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours.
First was the Rigby Road depot, one of the Blackpool locations my heroine visits in Gracie Fairshaw and The Mysterious Guest. Our two wonderful guides, Dave and Alan took us around the workshops including the pits, fabulous paint shop and the blacksmith's forge and then onto the tram sheds.
The buildings are historic (some from the 20s, 30s, and 50s) you can still see layers of flaking paint on doors and there was a wonderful smell of oil in the air.
There is also a lot of fascinating old equipment and tools to be seen, including lathes and a gas ring used to fix flats on tram tyres. I particulary enjoyed seeing the 'paint chart' on  the wall, the paint splattered floor and hand-painted signs in the paint shop.
We then walked across to the shed used by engineers to do repairs and then around the back of the tram depot where we could see a number of trams and bogies.

Flexity tram in Starr Gate tram depot

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.


Spanish Suite, Winte Gardens BlackpoolSeptember 2019

Heritage Open Days provides an opportunity to explore a number of Blackpool's historical sites and book for fascinating talks and tours.This year I booked onto a tour of the Winter Gardens. Our guides Ted and Ann Lightbown gave a wonderful, informative tour of the Empress Ballroom, Opera House, Olympia, Arena, Grand Vestibule, Pavilion Theatre, Baronial Hall and the Galleon Bar as well as the highlight for me - The Spanish Hall. When I visited in January the scaffolding was up and it was still impressive - but now it is absolutely breathtaking. Designed by movie set designer Andrew Mazzei in 1931 the room has to be be seen to be truly appreciated!

Grave in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool

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/


Guided tour participants walk along a rainy North Shore

August 2019

Blackpool often has challenging weather! This was certainly the case when I visited recently for a fascinating tour of the promenade. Beginning in front of the Imperial Hotel our heritage tour guides, Frank and Michael, took us along the Colonade at North Shore up to the Comedy carpet. It was very wet and windy but that didn't bother me!
Afterwards I paid another visit to the Tower Ballroom as I had the climax of my second Blackpool based book to write. Then there was just time to call into the wonderful The History Centre, which is on the first floor of Blackpool central library. I have used the centre a few times now to research. I particularly find being able to look at old newspapers on the microfiche reader helpful in getting small details right. This time I was concentrating on advertisements as my second book is set around Christmas.
I am pleased to say that I have now finished the first draft of my book, currently titled Trouble at the Tower!


Utopian Hot Ice show

July 2019

Feathers! Sequins! Lights! I was thrilled when the Blackpool Civic Trust and Blackpool Pleasure Beach offered me two free tickets to see 'Utopian' the new Hot Ice Show.
This was my first time at the Arena and the matinee show was a wondrous 50 minutes of sparkling ice dance.
The music and routines were incredible and the dancers looked amazing. I especially enjoyed the Bond-themed routine and a gymnatsic solo performance in a bath tub!
The former Ice Drome was built in 1937 and it's brilliant that this Blackpool tradition is continuing to attract an audience.
I will certainly be looking forward to future shows!

Ghost Walk gathers at Temple Street, Blackpool

June 2019

You can't choose a better place for stories than Blackpool, there is so much history to inspire a writer! So when I heard about the Blackpool Ghost Walks I couldn't resist.
Our host was The Victorian Ghost Hunter, author Stephen Mercer. Our walk took us on a spooky stroll into the past, covering side streets and quiet corners of the resort including Temple Street, the home of the former Temple of the Arts photographic studio (pictured) and the replica Three Graces plaque. There were tales of dreadful fires, forgotten coffins, horrid murders and Charlie the lovestruck theatre fan.
My trip also included my first visit to Yorkshire Fisheries, one of Blackpool's oldest fish and chip shops - a great seaside tradition! Of course being from Wigan, I couldn't resist ordering pie with my chips!

Blackpool Tower 125th birthday party in the Tower Ballroom

May 2019

Happy Birthday Blackpool Tower! I was delighted to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Tower's opening by taking my mum to a special party in the Ballroom.
We were treated to afternoon tea including birthday cake, as well as fantastic entertainment from a singer, magician, young dancers and the Tower Circus as well as a performance from Phil Kelsall on the Tower Wurlitzer! We received lovely goodie bags too.
One of my favourite moments though was being introduced to two former Blackpool Tower Children's Ballet dancers - Mavis and Monica - who shared their memories of performing in the tower with me, research information perfect for my current Blackpool Tower based work-in-progress!

View of screen at The Regent Cinema, Blackpool

April 2019

"It was beauty that killed the beast!" One of my earlies memories is watching the 1933 version of King Kong on a small TV at primary school while waiting to play the glockenspiel in the school production of Aladdin. I have always loved old black and white movies and this one led to a fascination with stopmotion animation. So when I discovered The Regent Cinema in Blackpool were showing the 35mm film version I had to go! The cinema originally opened its doors in 1921 before switching to a bingo venue in the 60s. Brilliantly it has now been turned back into a cinema, with a fascinating antiques centre downstairs! I had a lovely evening and was surprised to find that Kong is a true villain in the uncensored version they showed, and not as sympathetic a character as in the TV cut! I highly recommend a nostalgic trip to the Regent!
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Phil Kelsall plays the Wurlitzer at the Opera House, Blackpool

March 2019

This year is Blackpool's Grand Theatre's 125th birthday! So I was excited to see The Lady Vanishes this month and take a behind the scenes tour of this beautiful Frank Matcham designed building. Starting in the stunning auditorium with its three tiers with cantilevered balconies, there was a chance to look at old programmes. From there we went upstairs to see the dressing rooms and then onto the stage where I got a fantastic view of the auditorium. 
In the afternoon I crossed Blackpool to the Winter Gardens, to the Opera House.
Another beautiful theatre again designed by Frank Matcham! This time I was visiting for a concert by master of the Wurlitzer, Phil Kelsall. As he says, "I read music and play from memory!"
Although I have several CDs by Phil Kelsall this is the first time I've heard him play live - and I enjoyed every minute! He is incredibly skilled, and I was fascinated watching his fingers running over the keys at great speed. I especially loved one medley that went from Hallelujah to YMCA!

Susan  at the Spanish Suite, Winter Gardens, Blackpool during the renovations

January 2019

I was delighted to be able to attend the Winter Gardens Open Day for the first time.
I have visited some parts of the building before but there were a good number of areas that I haven't had access to.
The Open Day is run by the Winter Gardens Civic Trust. I was able to visit the Opera House (including backstage and on stage) Empress Ballroom, Arena, Olympia, Floral Hall, Galleon Bar, Renaissance Room, Horseshoe and my favourites the Spanish Hall pictured (currently being restored) and the Baronial Hall.
Blackpool is so lucky to have such incredible seaside heritage!



Susan with Audrey Mosson's Railway Queen gown

November 2018

I recently visited the Queens of Industry exhibition at Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley Mills. The exhibition highlights the history of having Railway Queens, Cotton Queens, Wool Queens and Coal Queens. I knew Audrey Mosson, the Railway Queen who switched on the Blackpool Illuminations in 1935 (and again with actress Joanna Lumley in 1985) featured, but I was completely surprised when I saw they had the gown Audrey wore at the ceremony on show. They had the Railway Queen chain of office and tiara too! I was absolutely thrilled to see these pieces of history up close. The gown looked as good as new and the tiara twinkled in the light. The exhibition is on until September 2019.

Susan with the Blackpool mace in the Mayor's Parlour, Blackpool Town Hall

October 2019

Last month I was delighted to be able to visit Blackpool Town Hall for a guided tour of this fascinating building. The Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On ceremony used to take place in front of the Town Hall (it now takes place at the Tower Headland.) I was able to see the grand entrance and stairway with the heraldic beasts, the Council Chamber with its mural paintings and the Mayor's Parlour. There are a number of lovely stained glass windows in the building and some lovely tiling. The highlight for me was being able to see the Blackpool Mace (pictured.)


Susan at the Blackpool Illuminations Switch-on ceremony 2018

September 2018

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!


at the Evolution of Magic show

August 2018

Gracie Fairshaw and The Mysterious Guest features a conjurer so as part of my research I have been reading Hiding the Elephant a fantastic non-fiction book about the history and art of magic. I have also watched lots of youtube clips of magicians including some showing how the illusions work - though even when you know how the trick is done, the skill involved is still mesmerising!

The one thing I have never done is go to a proper magic show. Luckily Blackpool offers a few of these and is even home to a Magic Convention in February! I decided to get tickets to see The Evolution of Magic at The Horsehow Bar, Pleasure Beach.
We had great seats and the show was fantastic, a real mix of northern humour, impressive close up magic (coins, cards) mind reading and bigger illusions.
My favorite moments where when the magician Craig Christian made doves appear from nowhere and when he made his partner Elizabeth disappear from a chair. I also enjoyed the levitation and their version of a woman cut in half! Elizabeth also mind read my date of birth! It really was a magical night.
Photograph by Susan Brownrigg.


July 2018

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.


June 2017

I have spent the last six months working on a new historical Middle Grade novel - Gracie Fairshaw and The Mysterious Guest - which is set during the illuminations switch on in 1935.
I have loved taking several trips up to Blackpool to research my new book. As well as using the newspaper archives at the local history centre I've visited Blackpool Tower ballroom and I have been on some of the Pleasure Beach's historical amusement park rides including the Grand National, Hiram Maxim's Flying Machines (pictured) and the River Caves - which I have realised was the inspiration for my first books as it features a number of exotic locations including Angkor!) I have also travelled on a heritage tram!


May 2017

I have enjoyed a fantastic heritage tour of Lightworks - the purpose built depot for the repair, building and storage of the Blackpool Illuminations. There was a host of lamps, wiring, tableaux and illuminations to be seen as well as machinery and a chance to see an archive of old drawings.
The highlight for me was having a chance to see the Switch-On column and I even got to hold the lever. The Column has been used since the 1930s and was the one used by Audrey Mosson, the 15-year-old Railway Queen who was invited to switch on the 1935 Illuminations! She looked far more glamourous than I did in my Hi-vis safety jacket though!
If you would like to go on a tour of the Lightworks depot you can book a place at https://www.heritageblackpool.co.uk/

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September 2016

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.

August 2016

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.

March 2016

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.

January 2016

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.


December 2015

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.



November 2015

I was delighted to win the Margaret Carey Scholarship and attend the SCWBI BI conference in Winchester. Very sadly while away I was given some sad news. Friendship helped me through a difficult weekend and I was glad that their support meant I stayed. I wrote an article for SCBWI Words & Pictures to say thank you.

October 2015

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.


August 2015

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.