May 2020

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. 


How has your art developed over time?

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.

www.jennyczerwonka.com


Blackpool Tower silhouette

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April 2020

Lockdown has meant staying in and no more trips to Blackpool for some time. Work ahead of the publication of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest continues though!
My book has been typeset and has a new chapter head illustration featuring the suitcase from the front cover. The Uclan Publishing team and I have been proofreading hoping to spot any rogue typos or layout issues.
I have also been thinking of ways to publicise Gracie online and working on a third Gracie book.

I am delighted that five children's book authors have very kindly reviewed my book.

Katherine Woodfine is the author of the amazing Sinclair Mysteries and the Taylor & Rose series.Katherine is one of my favourite authors. She said she especially enjoyed reading Gracie as her nan was a Blackpool landlady!
Her quote - "A delightfully engaging mystery, with a wonderful setting in 1930s Blackpool." - will appear on the front cover of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest.

Barbara Henderson writes wonderful Scottish-themed historical novels for children 8+ published by Cranachan including Fir for Luck, Punch & the forthcoming The Siege of Caerlaverock.

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.


March 2020

I am chuffed to bits to announce the forthcoming publication of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest!
Gracie will be published by the fabulous Uclan Publishing on July 2nd 2020.

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.


February 2020

The Winter Gardens Open Day is one of the highlights of the Blackpool events calendar. This year I was particularly pleased to be able to take a tour of the basement! This is a maze of corridors that run underneath the building. I went in at the Arena and came out at the back of the Galleon bar! Along the way I saw lots of doors with painted numbers on them and the remains of Bank Hey House (a brick wall and what would have been a window.) I also made my first visit to Quilligan's Cafe Bar (Empress Buildings, Church Street) which in the 1930s was a vaulted entrance hall to the Empress Ballroom within the Winter Gardens complex. It is well worth a visit, not just for the food (the fat chips are huge!) but for the wonderful art nouveau tiles. Originally there were 28 tiled panels of ladies in exotic costume. Fifteen have known names after semi-precious stones, butterflies or birds. The vaulted ceiling featured designs including mermaids, seaweed and fish. These stunning tile panels were designed by the artist W.J Neatby for Doultons. The panels were later removed from the rear of the hall, followed by the ceiling. Only twelve panels survive. The space became a car showroom (with eleven of the panels on show) and they were then covered up in 1972 when it became a shoe shop. In 2010 the panels were uncovered (although the surrounding decorative tiles have been panelled over to protect them until funding can be raised for restoration work. Hopefully one day in the future all the tiles will be revealed again.

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January 2020

The first month of the year can be a blue one, but not when you book an afternoon tea and a heritage tour at The Imperial Hotel, Blackpool! Alison Gilmore, General Manager, shared many fascinating stories as we were shown around the beautiful building.
The Grade II listed hotel was founded by a directorship that also owned the North Pier in 1867. It began life as a temperance hotel, meaning no alcohol was served on the premises, and the road past used to be tolled! The Imperial changed hands and started serving drinks. It was the venue for celebrations marking the opening of the Winter Gardens and the laying of Blackpool Tower's foundation stone.
Later Turkish, Russian and salt water baths were added, the hydropathic hotel became popular with a wealthy clientel who expected fine dining and fantastic service.

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! .

The hotel has a number of spectatular rooms with original features. The Churchill Room used to be a smoking room, but was named after the Prime Minister who used to have the room when he stayed in Blackpool for party conferences. (Blackpool has a long history of hosting these, and many MPs have stayed at the Imperial.) In the No.10 bar plays tribute to former Prime Ministers with specially engraved mirrors. The room used to be a billiards room and still retains its stained glass canopy. The Imperial had many stained glass elements originally, and this is one that has survived. The ballroom had a stained glass ceiling in the past so guests could dance under the stars, though the feature is now lost, the room is still an impressive sight with its elaborate plasterwork.

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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 Mirror Ball Blackpool

December 2019

Blackpool has some really interesting public artworks. On New Year's Eve I enjoyed a walk from South Pier to Starr Gate where you can see a number of art installations including ten that form the Great Promenade Show.

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.


Susan and Moana the ratNovember 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 Moana 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! Moana 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.