Tag Archives: History

Saved by a Writer from the Past, or How I Learned to Love Widsith the Poet

Whenever I write a new story, I often seem to reach a point where inspiration dries up and I get stuck. It’s almost as if a voice in my head says over and over again, ‘Why are you writing this rubbish? And what makes you think you’re any good at writing stories anyway?’ I like to think it’s an essential part of the creative process, the temporary triumph of the self-doubt that surrounds any attempt to create something. Get through this, I tell myself, and everything will be fine. But that doesn’t always make it any easier to deal with.

The dreaded moment came early with Winter of the Wolves, my latest Flashback. I had already written two Flashbacks – Revolt Against the Romans, the story of Caractacus’s rebellion in first-century Roman Britain, and Attack of the Vikings, a tale of action and adventure set in the west of Scotland in the Viking Age. I also had a good idea for the new book. It was going to be about the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, seen through the eyes of a young boy, an orphan who is taken in by a chief of the Angles. I was keen to make the Beowulf story part of the plot too. I’m a huge fan of the poem, and I wanted to come up with a suggestion for how it might have been brought to these shores.

As usual I did plenty of research and came up with an outline. I wrote a decent chapter one, moved on to chapter two… and then found myself grinding to a halt. The words stopped coming, the characters wouldn’t speak or do anything interesting, the story refused to come to life. But I didn’t panic. I’d been in the same position many times before, and so I tried the things that have helped in the past – taking a break, reading my notes again, thinking about the characters from a different angle. Doing more research also sometimes helps – it might be that I haven’t immersed myself in the period enough.

That’s what did the trick this time. With Beowulf in mind, I looked up lots of other Anglo-Saxon poetry, and came across a poem I’d forgotten about. In The Traveller’s Song we meet Widsith, an Anglo-Saxon poet of the sixth century, and he tells us of all the royal courts he’s visited, and the important kings and chiefs and warriors he has impressed with his poems and songs. Widsith is a great character – he’s vain and boastful, and the poem reads like a glorious promotional leaflet aimed at getting him more work. At any rate, it really spoke to me across the centuries, perhaps because I’m a freelance writer too. I’ve certainly met a few writers like Widsith, and I have a feeling he never got stuck.

So I put Widsith into my story as an old blind scop – that’s the Anglo-Saxon word for a poet – who becomes a friend and mentor to my central character, Oslaf. Poets were greatly respected in early Anglo-Saxon culture, as praise-singers for warrior chiefs, but also as guardians of the tribe’s history. Widsith quickly became a very important figure in Oslaf’s story, and to a large extent the plot only works because of him. While I was writing the story I kind of felt that Widsith was looking after me too. It was almost as if I had a co-writer  I could turn to – ‘What do you think of this bit, Widsith?’ I put a quote from his poem at the beginning of the book, but really his name should be on the title page as well.

The rest of the story came fairly easily after that, although for me that means inching ahead at a rate of about 500 words a day. But you get a feel for how well a story is 9781472953780.jpgprogressing, and I knew this one was going to be all right. I’m not usually boastful about  what I do, but I’ve decided to emulate Widsith and say that I think Winter of the Wolves is one of the best stories I’ve written. I certainly enjoyed writing it enormously, and I think the cover (by Illustrator Rob Ball) is brilliant. If you want to find out more about Widsith there’s an excellent Wikipedia article about his poem. I’m thinking of starting a Widsith Fan Club – after all, I really do owe him a favour!

 

Tony Bradman is an award-winning author who has been involved in children’s books for 35 years. His latest novel, Winter of the Wolves, is out now!

Why the Golden Horsemen Came Riding

Growing up, I knew almost nothing about Baghdad and the Middle East except that an author there had written the 1001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights as my Year 4 teacher used to call it. It’s a wonderful anthology of fairytales that has filled the heads of many a child with the notion of flying carpets, thieves hidden in wooden barrels, genies and magic lamps. I received the Bancroft Classics edition for my eighth birthday, which I re-read endlessly. No author was credited with the work on the front cover but I hardly noticed. I devoured the Sinbad films on telly too, especially the Ray Harryhousen versions which had incredible special effects. But of the real Baghdad, I remained mostly ignorant.

In my teenage years, the Middle East started to feature on the news, but nearly always shown in a bad light. Uprisings and terror attacks flickered across the television screens. News reports showed tanks lumbering across deserts, flat-roofed houses being blown up, grim-faced youths hijacking planes. Not surprisingly I never connected those images with the magical lands of ‘Open Sesame’ and delicious lakoum.

Fast forward a few decades and I am doing an author visit at a school in Bradford where I lived for over ten years. Most of the children were of Pakistani and Indian origin. It was a warm day and we were eating our lunch out in the playground. We got to talking about our most cherished wishes. One boy said in a broad Yorkshire accent, ‘my biggest wish is to go truffle hunting with my father in the Afghan mountains.’

It turned out the boy’s father was Afghani. Trapped in the fraught and long-winded process of sorting out his immigration paperwork, he still lived in Afghanistan. The son visited once a year but never during the truffle hunting season.  It was a Eureka moment for me. It brought images of a magical Middle East flooding back into my head. Not the clichéd magic of genies and flying carpets, but the enchantment of real life still tied to the land and the seasons.

I started reading up on life in Middle Eastern countries, now and in the past and I fell for its charm all over again. Baghdad especially drew my interest. Based around the ‘beyt al Hikma’, meaning ‘house of knowledge’, a world-famous library built in the 9th century, it established itself as a world leader in the arts, science and innovation.

As I started sharing my discoveries in my talks to schools, I learnt that most children, even those of Muslim heritage, were unaware of Baghdad’s glorious heyday, of its massive contribution to the worlds of science, mathematics, medicine, poetry and translation. Without its scholars and their mentors, including the powerful caliphs who built the libraries and schools, much of the writings of the ancient world would now be lost forever.

9781472955999.jpgToday the Golden Age of Islam is part of the National Curriculum in KS2. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore the real history of a culture we in the West so often overlook. My book The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad was written to accompany the subject. Like my other works for Bloomsbury Education, it’s a rollicking adventure but it is also packed with information and insight into the culture and the period. I hope you all enjoy it.

 

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is bestselling historical fiction author Saviour Pirotta’s latest novel. Out now!

New and exciting books from Bloomsbury Education…

Today marks the release of an exciting range of titles from Bloomsbury Education. From thrilling historical adventures to fiction that will grab the attention of the most reluctant readers to a brilliantly witty and engaging collection of poetry.

Don’t panic teachers! We’ve not forgotten you! Get ahead of the game this year and grab one of our great new resource books, guaranteed to get ideas flowing and unbeatable lessons planned.

See below for more details on each new title and  don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @BloomsburyEd for details about our new titles, giveaways and more!

Land of the Gods

9781472918093

“If they were Romans I was done for: they’d tear me apart, bit by bit, and enjoy doing it…”

When Lucan sees a legion of Roman soldiers near his village it definitely makes sense to hide. But hiding in a wagon could prove to be a dangerous mistake. And falling asleep in the wagon is not the best idea that Lucan has ever had.

Trapped as a Roman slave, can Lucan find his way home… and does he even want to? Find out more here

The Bet

The BetEveryone wants to go on the school trip but no one can afford it. Ed, Zac, Becca and Kat decide to try and work for the money. Soon, it is boys versus girls in a bet to see who can raise the most and that’s when the trouble starts. One thing’s for sure; the competition starts here!

Bloomsbury High Low books encourage and support reading practice by providing gripping, age-appropriate stories for struggling and reluctant readers, those with dyslexia, or those with English as an additional language. Printed on tinted paper and with a dyslexia friendly font, The Bet is aimed at readers aged 11+ and has a manageable length (72 pages) and reading age (9+).                                                                  Find out more here

Sea Wolf

9781472924889Maya’s little brother Ethan is always telling stories about the Sea Wolf, the monster in the sea around Black Rock. Maya doesn’t believe Ethan’s lies but she does believe the sea is dangerous so, when Ethan tries to prove he can kayak to Black Rock, she knows she has to try to save him. Will either of them make it back from the dark and deadly sea?

Bloomsbury High Low books encourage and support reading practice by providing gripping, age-appropriate stories for struggling and reluctant readers, those with dyslexia, or those with English as an additional language. Printed on tinted paper and with a dyslexia friendly font, Sea Wolf is aimed at readers aged 9+ and has a manageable length (64 pages) and reading age (7+). Find out more here

It’s Not My Fault!

Not my faultJoin poets Roger Stevens and Steven Withrow for this magical mixture of poems. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious there’s something here for everyone. Just remember though – whatever happens…
it’s not my fault! Find out more here

 

 

 

 

Bloomsbury Curriculum Basics: Teaching Primary Computing

9781472921024Computers are just for playing games, right? Many of your pupils will think so. It may be a cultural shift for both the pupils and their parents to change that perception of computing. However, the learning gained from the ‘games’ played on computers in the primary classroom is paramount.

The teaching ideas in this book use mostly free tools, which operate across the many platforms that primary schools use. Based on the National Curriculum, the book is split into year groups, and each chapter offers practitioners an essential summary of all the information and vocabulary they need to successfully implement the activity in the classroom. Find out more here

A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling

9781472922458A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling will help teachers address the spelling targets of the new English curriculum and can also be used to support and enhance the growing range of phonic based spelling programmes currently used within schools. It provides a basic summary of the major developments in the teaching of spelling over the last 40 years and outlines current research and approaches. The renewed emphasis on phonic knowledge as a key element of all reading and spelling programmes is highlighted, as are those additional complimentary approaches to teaching spelling that are supported by current research.

The games and activities will help to develop and embed children’s phonological awareness, phonic knowledge and auditory memory. Find out more here

The Little Book of my Neighbourhood 

9781472925077.jpgThis book provides suggestions for activities and visits in your local neighbourhood, together with plans and advice on how to fully explore the area around your setting. Extend the learning with fun follow-up ideas that will encourage you to explore further afield. All activities link to specific aspects of the curriculum areas and early learning goals.

Topics include local space, walks, talks from community members, visits and games, stories and songs. Find out more here

 

 

New Q & A with Historical Tales’ author Terry Deary

Happy Friday! Today, Words for Life published an interview with Bloomsbury Education’s own Terry Deary, ahead of the release of his new fantastic Shakespeare Tales. To find out more about Terry’s favourite books, top-tips for parents, and why he’d rather be the villain of the story head over to http://www.wordsforlife.org.uk/terry-deary now.

Terry Deary’s Shakespeare Tales are hilarious new additions to his highly successful Historical Tales series and are perfect for supporting learning about the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death in 2016, as well as being a great accompaniment to any lesson on drama or Elizabethan England. Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are available from Bloomsbury now. The next instalments, Romeo and Juliet and Twelth Night, will publish 16th June. You can find out more about Terry Deary’s Shakespeare Tales, here on our website.

Introducing Lottie Lipton!

Drawing of Lottie LiptonHello! I’m writing this from the reading room in the British Museum in 1928. I understand that my adventures and tales of daring and bravery have been made into books by Mr Dan Metcalf. How exciting! I can’t wait for everyone to read them and see what fun we’ve all had.

But where are my manners? I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Lottie Lipton. I’m nine years old and I live in an apartment in the British Museum with my Great Uncle Bert. He’s the Curator of Ancient Egyptian Artefacts and brought me to London after my parents died. They were archaeologists, and were killed when a tomb they were excavating in Cairo collapsed. I miss them of course but living in the British Museum is AMAZING! I can look at whatever exhibits I want, read any of the books in the library and I don’t even go to school. Uncle Bert teaches me everything I need to know and Reg, the old caretaker who lives on the grounds too, teaches me extra things like how to say ‘How much is it’ in twenty-five languages and how to pick a padlock.

Lottie at the British Museum - her home
                           Home!

Oh, and then there’s the adventures.

Strange things start to happen whenever I’m around. When you’re surrounded by thousands of years of world history, I suppose anything could happen. But these things are really strange. Like when a giant golden statue of an Egyptian cat came alive and ran away from its display case, or when we discovered the trail of clues leading to the legendary Trident of Neptune. I love a puzzle and always seem to find an adventure (or maybe they find me?).

Looking for the Cairo Cat
Me doing some top secret investigating!

Life would be perfect if it wasn’t for Sir Trevelyan Taylor, the Head Curator, trying to evict us from our home at the museum at every given opportunity. He’s got something against us living here, just because sometimes I leave my tea and toast balanced on an ancient priceless sculpture, or Uncle Bert manages to get lost in his own department (he’s a little absent-minded).

I really hope everyone enjoys my adventures, because I’ve had plenty more that Mr Metcalf has kindly written down for me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and investigate something. I’m sure I heard a bang from the Egyptian section. I hope it’s not a mummy come to life again!

TTFN (Ta ta for now),

Lottie x

The first two books in The Lottie Lipton Adventures, titled The Curse of the Cairo Cat and Secrets of the Stone, are published on the 2nd of July.

The Secrets of the Stone coverThe Curse of the Cairo Cat cover