Saturday, 31 August 2019

Book Review: 'Spylark' by Danny Rurlander

Just as Daniel Craig's James Bond brought a more human dimension to the franchise, Danny Rurlander has broken the Stormbreaker mould with the unlikely hero of Spylark. True, Tom Hopkins has lost both parents and is living with a relative, but he also suffers bullying at school, has terrible claustrophobia and is living with the after-effects of an accident which has left him needing a walking stick to get about.

Tom is at risk of becoming withdrawn and reclusive and his love inventing machines and piloting his homemade drones seems to be making this worse. But flying is his escape - as he explores the beautiful surroundings of the Lake District using his drone's camera's live feed he feels free of his body and able to do all manner of things. However, a routine flight brings him into a world of danger and terror as he attempts to foil the plans of a criminal gang whose activity threatens to have world-wide consequences. Tom's freedom very quickly becomes captivity.

Thankfully Tom isn't in this alone - he reluctantly befriends two children who come to stay in his aunt's holiday cottage and, as he becomes tour guide to their Swallows and Amazons fantasy holiday, he takes them into his confidence. And a good job too - they prove crucial not only in helping him combat the criminals, but in causing Tom to break free of how his life's experiences are holding him back.

Although certain aspects of the book are recognisable, the storyline is far from formulaic - halfway through it seems like the action is soon to be over: not so. You see, the familiar idea of children being taken seriously enough to have done what a country's secret services couldn't have done is rubbished in this story, lending it an air of credible realism. The fact that some adults don't believe Tom and his friends means that the story must go on and the no-nonsense advice of more trusted adults ensures that it does.

Spylark is an awesome page-turner and an incredible feat for this first-time author. If Arthur Ransome legitimately got so many sequels out of his sailboats-and-sandwiches romps (and don't get me wrong, they thrilled me) then Rurlander could certainly provide us with a brilliant follow-up to Spylark - I know I'd be queueing up to read it. Immediately gripping, this book would go down well with upper key stage two readers and upwards, not least with those considered to be reluctant readers. I couldn't recommend it enough - a cracking adventure.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Misguided Reading (6 Questions To Ask When Planning A Reading 'Lesson')


How should we teach reading? What do we even mean by 'reading'? Decoding? Comprehension? Both? Is it more than that?

Scarborough's Reading Rope - image from EEF's 'Improving Literacy In KS2'

Scarborough's Reading Rope breaks things down a little more and, if nothing else, serves to show that there is quite a lot going on when one picks up a book to read.

If the above 8 headings (background knowledge; vocabulary; language structures etc) were all the necessary components of being able to read, is it the case that if we teach them all, children would be able to read? If so, how explicitly do they need to be taught? Can some of them be developed unwittingly in a language-rich, book-rich environment? Do teachers and schools really have a chance if a child isn't being brought up in such an environment?

So many questions, and given the range of advice that exists about reading instruction, I'm not sure we have the answers - at least not readily. Indeed, the 'reading wars' have been raging for years (although they focus less on comprehension) - just how exactly should we teach children to be able to read so that they can read words and understand their meaning as a whole?

My personal experience is that this is something that depends heavily on context. During my own career I have taught classes of children who have needed very little reading instruction and vice versa - I am judging this simply on their ability to understand what they have read. A cursory analysis of  the differences between these classes reveals that it appears to me to be the children who have been brought up in a language-rich, book-rich environment who, by the time they are 10 or 11, can read exceptionally well and don't need teaching how to comprehend what they have read. Of course, some children will have been brought up in such an environment and still need help with their reading.

Why does context matter? Well, for the purposes of this blog post, it matters because what one teacher in one classroom in one school somewhere does, might not work for another teacher somewhere else.

For example, a reading lesson consisting of asking children to complete two pages of mixed written comprehension questions might work with children who can already decode, comprehend and encode, but it is questionable as to how much they will have actually learned during that lesson. A lesson like this might have the appearance of being successful in one setting but, share those resources online with a teacher in a different context and they might not experience the same levels of apparent success. The children in the second teacher's class might need teaching some strategies before they can access such an activity.

And what does said activity amount to in reality? Just another test. Weighing the pig won't make it fatter - it's just that weighing it also won't make it any lighter either: if a child can read already, then these kinds of activity might do no harm. But we must be clear: this practice of repeatedly giving children comprehension activities composed of mixed question types is not really teaching children much. However, perhaps the stress, or boredom, of constantly being weighed might start to have negative consequences for the pig: children are potentially put off reading if their main experience of it is repetitive comprehension activities.

So, if weighing the pig doesn't make it fatter, what does? Feeding it. But with what should we feed them with? What should we teach them in order to help them to read words and understand what they mean as a whole?

Is it as simple as Michael Rosen suggests? Is it just a case of sharing books with children and talking about them? I've seen first-hand anecdotal evidence which certainly suggests that 'Children are made readers on the laps of their parents' (Emilie Buchwald). My own children, taught very well to decode using phonics at school, also appear to be excellent comprehenders - they have grown up around family members who read an awful lot, have had models of high quality speech, have partaken in a wide variety of experiences, have broad vocabularies and spend a good deal of their own time reading or being read to. Give them a two-page comprehension activity and they'd probably ace it. However, as already mentioned, this certainly won't be the case for every child brought up in such a way.

But what should schools do when they receive children who haven't had the privilege of a language-rich, book-rich and knowledge-rich upbringing, or those for whom that hasn't quite led to them being excellent readers? Downloading someone else's comprehension sheets and making children spend half an hour doing them isn't going to help them to become better readers. Should we teachers be trying to 'fill the gap' - to do the things that some children experience at home before they've ever even set foot in a school? Or is it too late once they're in school? Does the school-based approach need to be different?

As I said before: so many questions - questions I won't answer in this blog post. But I will leave you with something practical, in the spirit of this blog post, it'll be in the form of some questions to ask yourself when preparing a reading lesson:

Does this activity promote practice of existing skills or is it teaching them new strategies? Sometimes you will want to do some practising, other times you will want to teach them something new - how to ask questions of what they are readin, how to summarise what they have read, for example.

Does this activity help children to understand the text better or does it help them to understand a strategy better? Again, on some days you will just want to do activities that help children to gain a really good understanding of the passage; other days you might want to focus on teaching and practising a strategy such as inference making or visualising what has been described in the text.

Does this activity promote an enjoyment of reading? I tentatively include his question, and provide some clarification: I do not mean Is this activity fun? Reading is nearly always enjoyable when one understands what is being read. A reading task therefore can be enjoyable if it focuses on developing understanding of previously unknown word meanings which then helps he children to understand what hey have read. Anything that makes a child feel a sense of success will probably also be enjoyable for them. If they feel like it's pointless, repetitive or way too difficult, they lose that motivating sense of achievement.

Does the activity require silent completion or dialogic collaboration? I would suggest at the first option is reserved for testing - occasionally necessary; the second option should be key to a reading lesson. Teachers should be reading aloud, modelling their thoughts, demonstrating strategies, explaining word etymology and so on, and children should be joining in with this. Although the act of reading is usually a very private thing, a reading lesson will need to be the opposite if the children are to learn anything in it. A lesson can legitimately feature a set of printed out questions that require a written answer but should never consist of this alone - such activities will need surrounding with plenty of decent talk. And it's that book talk that will make the lesson enjoyable.

Do the children need any new prior knowledge (of the world or of words) before they access this text? Reading sessions can be derailed instantly if the children don't know enough about what they are reading to be able to understand it. Spending some time previously learning new stuff (could be by reading a non-fiction text) will help a following lesson to go much more smoothly - comprehension, including inference-making, relies on prior (or background) knowledge. Of course, some fiction texts (historical novels, for example) can be great ways for children to learn new things about a subject.

Have I (the teacher) read and understood the text and the questions and answers I intend to ask? When I've seen reading lessons go off the boil, it's usually because teachers haven't asked themselves this question during their preparation. Downloading someone else's comprehension sheets can easily lead to teachers not being able to answer the questions themselves and then getting into a right fluster in front of the children. Although a good reading lesson will nearly always follow a tangent or two, it's best to know where you're going in general: pre-empt the questions the children might ask, the words they might not know, and so on. Plan out what you will model, which questions you will ask and definitions you will give.

What other experiences of reading do the children in my class get? The timetabled reading lesson shouldn't be all that children get. They need to discuss vocabulary and read across the curriculum. They will benefit from a physical environment which celebrates reading. Adults who have read the books on the shelves and can discuss them with children will really boost their engagement with books and reading. If a lesson is the only time children experience reading then they may believe that reading only belongs in that slot on the timetable.

Perhaps by asking the above questions during lesson planning sessions, reading lessons might develop a little more focus and direction. By preparing in this way a lesson might end up being more guided than misguided.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

3 Children's Books To Celebrate The 50th Anniversary Of The Moon Landing

With 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission's successful moon landing, it's no surprise that authors, illustrators and publishers have been hard at work producing some amazing non-fiction books by way of celebration. Whilst there are many children's books already available on the subject, it's always nice to welcome new ones into the fold, especially given that current design trends favour beautiful illustrations over stock photography. So, here are my three current favourites on the topic:

Balloon To The Moon by Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielsen

Anyone who is familiar with Big Picture Press books will have some idea of what to expect: a large format, hardback book which couples easy-to-read but insightful information with the very best of illustrations. In this case its the retro-styled images of Christopher Nielsen which evoke an age gone by: the era of the great space race. The vintage drawings might remind an older reader of a time when astronauts were just the fantasy of sci-fi comics - younger readers will simply delight in the colourful depictions of a wealth of scientific and historic facts and stories.

'Balloon To The Moon' also cleverly employs a countdown to the moment when man finally stepped foot on the moon: it begins with chapter 10, running all the way through to chapters 3, 2, 1 and then Lift-Off, Lunar Orbit and Re-Entry. Along the way, Gill Arbuthnott tells the story of everything that had to happen before Neil Armstrong could step out of that lunar landing module and utter his immortal words. Filled with facts and figures, this book provides accessible, bite-size chunks of space travel history - children of all ages will learn something from this stellar publication.


'Where Once We Stood' by Christopher Riley and Martin Impey

New publishing house Harbour Moon Publishing are making a great first step with this visual feast of a book. Illustrator Martin Impey's pencil drawings and watercolour paintings take centre stage in this pleasingly large-scale paperback book. This isn't just a book with one or two pictures in it; every one of its 128 pages features multiple, largely monochrome but highly evocative, images. This book certainly is a visual treat - even if the text were ignored one could spend a great deal of time exploring its pages, wondering at one of the world's greatest dreams come true.

But there is text in this book too, and film producer, director and writer Christopher Riley presents the real-life conversations of the Apollo astronauts alongside urgent, present tense narrative. This combination makes for compelling reading - readers, helped along by the illustrations, will easily imagine that they are there with the astronauts, or in the control room, at least. Featuring the voices of astronauts from all 6 successful Apollo moon landings, this book might take a younger reader a while to make their way through as they savour both the text and the pictures. That's not to say there is too much, rather that this book is something unique, being unlike other non-fiction books, and therefore necessitating a different kind of reading. 'Where Once We Stood' is the kind of book that will be taken off the shelf time and time again and is an absolute must for any space-loving child or classroom where space is being taught about - you won't find anything else like this out there.


Neil Armstrong: First Man On The Moon by Alex Woolf (with Illustrations by Luisa Uribe, George Ermos and Nina Jones)

The latest in Stripes' Trailblazers series, Alex Woolf's biography of Neil Armstrong, presented in a novel-sized paperback, is the perfect thing for KS2 readers who want to know more about one of the world's most famous men. Stepping right back into his childhood and following Armstrong's life through to his last days, the story of how one man became the astronaut to first step foot on the moon is told compellingly yet simply - I can't imagine a reader wanting to even put this down.

The main story is interspersed with fact files, illustrations and other asides which, far from interrupting the flow of the narrative, add to it and provide a greater level of insight than one might expect from a book like this. Young readers will not only close the book more knowledgeable about one of the greatest feats of mankind, they will also leave feeling inspired by the level of commitment and hard work that Neil Armstrong demonstrated throughout his life - Woolf surreptitiously draws life lessons out of Armstrong's story, giving the book another dimension altogether. The book finishes nicely with a word on the legacy of both Armstrong and the Apollo missions, encouraging readers to look ahead to how 'spaceship earth' might be protected in the future.

That's all for now, but watch this space for more space-themed children's books - I have a whole shelf's-worth that I'd love to share with you! Here's a sneak peek of some of them:

Planning For Learning Sequences (Instead Of Planning Lessons)

My latest for HWRK magazine is a really important piece. We teachers spend far too much time thinking about lessons as little hour-long chunks of time - instead we should be thinking about learning sequences and saving ourselves some time.



https://www.hwrkmagazine.co.uk/

To download the full magazine and to read the article, click here: https://www.hwrkmagazine.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/HWRK-Issue08-Summer2019.pdf

Monday, 22 July 2019

History Key Questions To Ask When Learning About An Event or Period in KS2


Recently I posted a whole set of questions to ask when learning about a place in Geography (http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/06/geography-key-questions-place-national-curriculum.html). Here are the History versions. They are based on the KS2 History National Curriculum and, yes, there's an acronym: CHESTER.

So here are the CHESTER questions which you can ask whenever a new historical period or event is studied - ask these questions over the course of a unit:

Characteristics:

What were people’s lives like during this historical period?
What was/were society/culture/economy/military/religion/politics like during this historical period?
What else do I want/need to know about this historical period?

Historical Links:

How has this historical period influenced other historical periods?
How have other historical periods influenced this historical period?
How does this period/event compare to other historical periods/events (that have already been studied)?

Evidence:

What is the evidence for this historical event?

Significance:

What is significant about this historical event or period?
What were the main achievements of this historical period?
What were the follies of mankind in this historical period?

Timeline:

When did this event occur?
How long did this period last?
What came before and after this historical period?

Elsewhere:

What was going on elsewhere in the world during this historical period?


Response:

What do I think about this historical event?
What do others (past and present) think about this historical event?



You can download a word version of the above here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/key-questions-to-ask-and-answer-during-ks2-history-units-12152665

For History Key Questions To Ask When Learning About A Person, Event or Period in KS1, follow this link: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/11/history-key-questions-KS1.html

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Children's Books Reviewed By Children #2

In our house we have recently revamped the bedtime routine to contain A LOT more reading. This was partly out of necessity - the nights are so light that they couldn't go to sleep as early as they do when it is dark. They were also doing some pretty wild stuff pre-bedtime which DID NOT make them at all calm or ready to sleep. The answer: you already know: reading, of course!

As a result, my three children have read a ridiculous number of books and now they have industriously written a whole host of comments about the books for you. Here are the books they've chosen along with a few of their thoughts on them:


When Tyler is sent to summer camp, she can’t resist packing one of her latest science projects – the Hologramaphone 3000. Problem is, some of the phone’s functions have EXTREME side-effects, the kind that can turn your best-friend into a ferocious werewolf!

But when Tyler, Dylan and Ashley band together, there’s no problem that they can’t solve – no matter how big, hairy, and terrifying.

You would definitely so love it! I would probably say ages from 6 -10. Well, maybe. Apart from that, I would still recommend it to friends and family. - A, 7

I liked the part where they sneak into Pipper's office to get Tyler's Hologramaphone 2000 because Courtney and Pipper suddenly come in and Courtney starts talking about how clever she is. There's a really funny bit where Courtney says: "You can't say werewolves are real until you've actually see one." That bit's soooo funny! This book is 10/10 is for 7-13 year-olds. My favourite character is Courtney because she is show-y-off-y and funny. Enjoy! - I, 8


A swimming lesson takes an exciting turn when Fliss is magically whisked away to the Indian Ocean! There she finds a young dolphin in trouble and she knows she has to help. But she’s scared of deep water, and who knows what other animals there might be out there! Can Fliss face her fears and save her new friend?

A beautifully detailed book. I liked the bit where Fliss swam right up to the tiger shark and bopped it on the nose, just to save Spinner. I think Fliss was very brave to swim out of her depths, right next to a whale shark! I liked how welcoming and kind the author made Izad. I also liked how the author explained about the reef and how beautiful it was. I would highly recommend this book to friends and family. I think it was a very good book! It was awesome!  - I, 8

The Flute by Ken Wilson-Max, Illustrated by Catell Ronca (Tiny Owl)

Hear the whisper of the flute and see how it floats like a butterfly or blows like cold, grey wind. Discover how music can make you move and feel!

"I like Tiny Owl - he's a good book owl, isn't he?"

This book is about playing the flute. The flute makes nice noises but the sounds are like colours. It makes me feel like I want to play the flute and make a nice song with it. I like the part at the end where is says 'And a lilac sigh' because it has lots of colours. I like the colours in this book. - J, 5

Click here to watch a video of Ken Wilson Max reading The Flute.

The Bolds' Great Adventure by Julian Clary, Illustrated by David Roberts (Andersen Press)

Fasten your seatbelts - it's a special adventure for World Book Day with Teddington's wildest family! Learn just how our intrepid hyenas managed to get from their African safari park onto the plane and off to their new home in England. It's quite a remarkable, and some would say, unbelievable tale - but there are many laughs along the way! 

The Bolds are Hyenas. One day, the find some safari clothes lying near a river. There they found clothes, keys and passports. So they decided to travel to England. When they get there, they get things so muddled up! Mum poops in the shower, eats a wooden fruit and other bad stuff!

I liked the jokes that Mr. Bold makes up - they are very extremely funny!

This book is all about trying hard and listening and it is very fun.

Thank you for making this book, Julian Clary and David Roberts! - A, 7

The Hideaway Deer by Holly Webb, Illustrated by James Brown (Stripes)

When Lola moves house she can’t help feeling sad to leave her old friends and life behind. She’s always been shy and worries it’ll be hard to make friends at her new school. It’s not all scary, though. Lola loves her new home with its rambling garden and the deer that sometimes wander in through the broken fence.

Then one day she comes across a fawn who seems to be in trouble. Lola is determined to do everything she can to help the terrified little deer, but will she be able to do it on her own?


This book is amazing! It's all about a deer who has lost her mum. Her name is Dapple.

This book is all about growing up, leaving your animal friend and moving places.

I liked the bit when Lola stands in front of her class and talks about freeing the deer. - A, 7

Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan)
When Mum and Dad go away for the night, Aunt Amelia comes to look after one very cross little girl and boy. They do NOT want to be looked after and, even worse, Mum has left a list of boring instructions. But Aunt Amelia turns out to be rather different from expected . . . and a LOT more fun!

It's about Aunt Amelia coming to babysit the children. Mum and dad give her a list but they do everything wrong and they have loads of fun! They have fun swinging on trees; they have fun going on Aunt Amelia's back in the pond; they have fun eating loads of ice cream and they have fun eating sweets! At the end, they get ready for mum and dad coming back and they sweep and mop the house. I like everything about this book! - J, 5

My Babysitter Is A Robot by Dave Cousins, Illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (Stripes)

When Grandma creates a robot babysitter for twins Jake and Jess, chaos ensues!

Robin is embarrassing, clumsy and, worst of all, programmed to make them do their homework. They're also pretty sure he thinks their dog is a baby. The twins decide they have to do something before everyone realizes that Robin is a robot. But getting rid of their new babysitter will mean putting aside their sibling squabbles and working together, which might be an even bigger challenge...

My Babysitter Is A Robot is so good! This story is all about a robot who is very strict. I liked it when they were at the school fair and Robin did knock down the coconuts because the children found out that the coconuts were glued on! I also liked the part when they put salt in the sugar bowl for Olivia's party buns! - A, 7

Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief by Linda Chapman, Illustrated by Lucy Fleming (Stripes)

When the residents of Westcombe enter the Best Kept Village competition, they appear to have a helping hand – someone has tidied the village overnight! No one knows who has mowed the lawns and painted the fences but the town is looking neater than ever. Then pets and toys start to go missing. The villagers are upset and worried, and the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is involved. They're going to have to use all of their skills to solve this latest mystery...

In Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief someone's doing dark magic! There are shades in dolls and the dolls come alive! First, they do a good thing, then bad, good, bad.

This book is all about dark magic, powerful girls and trying hard.

I really liked it when they were having to fight the shades. Oh, the book is so good! - A, 7

The Nothing To See Here Hotel by Steven Butler, Illustrated by Steven Lenton (Simon & Schuster)

Welcome to The Nothing to See Here Hotel! A hotel for magical creatures, where weird is normal for Frankie Banister and his parents who run the hotel.

When a goblin messenger arrives at The Nothing to See Here Hotel, announcing the imminent arrival of the goblin prince Grogbah, Frankie and his family rush into action to get ready for their important guest. But it soon becomes obvious that the Banister family are going to have their work cut out with the demanding prince and his never-ending entourage, especially when it turns out the rude little prince is hiding a secret..

I liked the bit where Mrs V gobbles Grogbah up in her sleep. I also like how the Molar Sisters speak - 'Thith ith amathing!' - they speak like that because they have lost so many teeth! It's good when the pirates come and have a fight with the goblins! It turns out that Grogbah has the encrusted diamond aaaaaaaaaaaaall along! This book is 10/10 and is for 7s and over. My favourite character is Nancy because she is a very calm, lovely spider. This book is amazing. - I, 8

Action Stan by Elaine Wickson, Illustrated by Chris Judge (OUP Oxford)

Stan and his little brother Fred are off on a school trip to an outdoor adventure camp. Stan has been asked to keep an eye on Fred and his friends while they're away . . . what could possibly go wrong!?
Packed full of infographics, charts, and diagrams, this hilarious and visually-exciting book will have huge appeal for young readers.

Charts - WOW! I liked the bit where Stan joins the dogs and he wears all the funny clothes. This book is definitely 10/10 and I'd say it's for 8-13 year olds. My favourite character is Maddies because she is dressed in black and the only streak of colour is purple in her hair. She chews bubblegum and stands up for her sister Billie. I also like the bits where calls Jess Alaska. - I, 8

The Travels of Ermine: Trouble in New York by Jennifer Gray, Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Usborne)

Meet Ermine. She may be small but she’s on a BIG journey around the world.

Ermine the Determined is off to explore NEW YORK.

She can’t wait to visit Central Park Zoo, ride in a yellow taxi, and zoooom to the top of the Rockefeller building!

But when her suitcase is switched, Ermine finds some robbers are hot on her tail…

I really like how Barry does his burps and tummy rumbles - they're so funny! Also, all the time in the book Barry and Harry are trying to get the diamond all along and Ermine doesn't even know!

I like the accidental trick where Ermine scatters nails on the floor and puts glue on the floor. She also puts chili sauce on the hotdog and fizzymints in the Coca-Cola. I think think this book should be for 7-10s and it's definitely a 10/10! Enjoy! - I, 8

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions I Asked Myself When Writing Check Mates by Stewart Foster


I asked Stewart Foster to let us inside the mind of an author at work. One thing that potentially hinders us when we create their own writing is that they don't know the questions to ask themselves as they write. If a writer isn't asking these kinds of questions they could miss out on really ensuring their writing connects with its audience and fulfils its purpose. So, see what Stewart thought about whilst he wrote 'Check Mates' and use his questions as inspiration for your own as you write.

1. Is the beginning quick enough to hold readers attention? My answer to this is to go to dialogue as soon as I can.

2. Will the reader engage with the characters? This is not the same as ‘like’. Again, the answer is to go to dialogue. I find it the best way to ‘hear’ my characters.

3. Do I have Felix’s voice right? The funny thing about this, as with all my books, is that I only knew I had it right when I was no longer conscious of doing it.

4. Was Granddad too much of the perceived stereotypical German. The answer in the first draft was yes, so I dumbed down his accent, and simply had a key phrase ‘I am thinking…’ which I found endearing and quite funny.

5. Was I just writing a series of activities that I found funny, but didn’t move the story forward? Answer, yes, a little. So, I cut out the Go-Karting and car cleaning chapters. Maybe they will see light one day, as I really did like the Go-Karts, but as they say, ‘you have to kill your darlings.’

6. Was the Stasi section too much of an info-dump? I’m terrible about this when I think I spot it in other books, but the truth is, I’m a terrible reader, so I’m no judge at all. In this case I had my daughter read it, and she said it was fine.

7. After the ‘Fall out between Felix’s friend, Jake, and Granddad, how do I get them to make up, without having three chapters of people apologising? This was probably the bit I got most stuck on, and it stopped me for a few days. Then suddenly it came to me, and as with most writing problems, one solution can often solve three things. So, my favourite chapter in Check Mates is the scene with the chess board, under the tree.

8. Am I making it too sad? In order to address this, I broke a rule and went back and read a few chapters (I never go back and read as I write). Luckily, and perhaps vainly, I found myself laughing at my own jokes. Well someone has to! But this meant I knew it was a good balance of sadness and humour.

9. This wasn’t so much a question, as a problem, and that was how to avoid the cliché ending. Luckily the ending came to me when I was out cycling, and to be honest, the ending even surprised me. Of course, I can’t tell you it, as….well, it would spoil the fun!