BACK TO SCHOOL

Autumn Term is full of great things. Apart from all the buzz of a new school year, there’s National Poetry Day on 6th October, followed by National Non-Fiction November – so look out for all sorts going on. I’ve got some new books coming out soon to suit both events – details here before very long. There are also free wacky history play sketches available right now, just waiting for you to perform – take a peep here:- Fun & Free Plays By John Townsend On The New Salariya Website

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Based on a Key Stage 2 children’s history series You Wouldn’t Want To Be, these short plays can be downloaded from the site and performed in school.

Back-in-the-day, schools couldn’t seem to get enough short wacky play scripts, comic sketches and daft melodramas packed with putrid puns (to say nothing of alliteration). Children could read them together in little groups, groan at the jokes and chuckle collectively. I used to write and edit such material unashamedly because I knew how even the most reluctant reader could enter comfortably the world of group reading, where silly one-liners delivered not just a giggle but also good-humoured peer approval.

Since those days, when sniggering huddles of pupils at wet breaks in the library read together such titles as ‘Cowboys, Jelly and Custard’ (maybe not one of my finest literary works), I have been writing more standard fare for school libraries – albeit with a dash of silliness when I can get away with it. But I rue the day when sets of play scripts were packed away into that cupboard where so much tried and tested stuff ends up… and to which the key seems to be permanently lost.

Publishers no longer seem interested in ‘funny short plays’ because there are now worthier priorities. But never fear… have I got news for you?

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Suddenly David Salariya beckoned out of the blue. “How about some comic play sketches to accompany our ever-popular history series You Wouldn’t Want To Be…?” Reading for fun was back. Halleluiah!

It was my pleasure to read through this splendid history series and write a dozen play sketches, each for just six characters – all having short lines of dialogue for easy reading or performing. Yes, the plays are daft, but they also contain nuggets from the books and additional information about the period they illustrate.

Apart from being awash with puns, wacky characters and crazy misunderstandings, the scripts range from pantomime to melodrama to farce and hip-hop. I couldn’t resist the occasional TV parody, either; Egyptian mummy-making a la ‘Master Chef’ or the ancient Roman game show ‘I’m a Gladiator… Get Me Out of Here’.

‘The Great Fire of London’ features Samuel Pepys recording a video diary:-

Samuel: Good day, dear diary. It is very early on Sunday 2nd September. It smells as if Jane is already up and cooking something rather fiery.

Elisabeth: You’re talking in your sleep, Samuel. Blow out the candle and return to bed. It is only three o’clock in the morning. What’s that smell?

Samuel: I don’t think it is me, dearest. It must be the candle.

Jane: (Calling at the door) Sir, madam… the sky over the city is red.

Samuel: Then it should be a fine day later. You know what they say; ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight…’

Elisabeth: Unless the shepherd is on fire. Open the door in your night gown, Samuel.

Samuel: But I don’t have a door in my night gown, dearest.

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OK – you get the gist.  Just a bit of fun – but why not give the downloadable scripts a try? After all, such delights were all the rage back in the day… and we all know that ground-breaking retro is the new, bright tomorrow.

Click here to visit the Fun & Free section of the Salariya website to find the plays and much more.

Let me know how the plays go if you try them out. In the meantime, I might see you on my school visits this term when I may just tell you about my new novel coming out next year. So far, it’s a bit of a secret but anytime soon I’ll be spilling the beans about a scary mystery on the beach at the end of summer. Just when you thought it was safe to go for a paddle…  Happy Autumn Term!

PS  A HUGE thanks to the brilliant KS2 children at Hazeldown School in Teignmouth. What a charming bunch. It was an honour to open their new school library, supported by a fantastic PTA. How wonderful to visit a primary school with a real live dynamic librarian! A great start to the term.                                                                                           This is what Year 5 wrote in their blog:-

image Today the children were given a real treat as they met the famous author John Townsend. John entertained them with tales from his own life and his inspiration for writing both fiction and non-fiction books. Some children were able to get involved with role play. There was much laughter throughout the whole session.

Plays into Books

     Flashback : Sharp Shades 2.0 - John Townsend      Death on Toast : Sharp Shades 2.0 - John Townsend

In a past life I wrote and directed school plays, sometimes playing the odd part myself. I always get a lump in the throat when I discover what some of my ‘stars’ have gone on to achieve. Quite a few now work in theatre, media and the arts. If you’re one of them, do tell me. You may have been in my World War Two play called ‘An Echo Far Away’ many moons ago. I happen to know several members of that cast are now doing wonders in theatre and as drama teachers. Amazingly, that story has been reincarnated over the years. The latest version is a very simplified short story – just out in the Sharp Shades series from Ransom Publishing. Now called ‘Flashback’, it recounts the journey of elderly Bernard, who reluctantly goes back to the village where he was evacuated as a boy… to lay his demons to rest once and for all.

The other Sharp Shades title just out is ‘Death On Toast’. It’s a much shorter version of the ‘full Shades’ here. Again, this started off as a school play (or, more accurately, 95% monologue). I wrote it as a piece to stretch a few drama students over the years and called it ‘Death By Pizza’SPOILER ALERT… the boy in the story poisons his teacher (played by me, of course). Toby Burchell acted the part recently (including going on tour to a tearoom!) and fifteen years ago it was Kit Harington – of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame. I like to think my story (‘that old chestnut’ as Kit calls it) might have nudged him in a certain direction (as an actor rather than a serial killer, you understand). It’s funny how things turn out, eh?  #AMAZING!

Incidentally, I popped up in June’s edition of WRITERS’ FORUM Magazine, where I was interviewed by Phil Barrington about ‘where I write’. I’m there right now – watching a boat out at sea and dreaming about books, plays, old friends – and the next big adventure…

 

 

 

 

Sizzling Science Week

Did you know the third week of March each year is National Science Week? Many schools get extra excited about all things sciency, so it’s always fun to drop in and tell a few tales to add to the bubbling mix of fascinating science going on – especially in Essex. For almost ten years I’ve been going back to Essex for Science Week where there’s more than a whiff of wow science in the air. Last year they even arranged a solar eclipse! This year I spent a delightful day on Canvey Island at Castle View School in the Celebration Theatre with years 7 and 8, then in the fantastic library (with its very impressive student librarians). But I also found out about The Canvey Island Monster – a weird creature that washed up on the beach and got the scientists guessing. Needless to say, I met no monsters at Castle View – but an enthusiastic bunch of Accelerated Readers (many of those I spoke to are called Alfie). There was plenty of interest in arachnids (to say nothing of nervous teachers with arachnophobia).

The Sweyne Park School in Raleigh never ceases to amaze. For my ninth Science Week here, I met terrific classes in the superb library – and what fun I had (I think they did, too!). Mitchell excelled himself with a dazzling acting debut – pure pantomime. It’s not only great to see science is alive, well and sizzling at Sweyne, but also to know how much reading goes on. This library is one of my favourites and I’m always impressed at how Mrs Waghorn dreams up a cryptic science quiz each year. I wonder who worked out the clues to the puzzle and spelled out the secret message based on the elements in the periodic table. Great stuff!

Over the years I’ve visited a number of schools in Southend-on-Sea. This year I was delighted to meet a lot of sparky year 7 and 8s in the library, where we chatted about all sorts – even science! We covered a lot of topics and I was fascinated to find the science department has its own corn snake, so most people knew plenty of ‘snake science’ without any obvious signs of ophidiophobia. I met many keen readers and writers, too.  George showed me the book he and his friends are writing about ‘the shattered mirror’ and the secret message the broken shards spell out. I promise not to steal your great ideas (well, not ALL of them).

I’ll tell you what… I can’t wait for Science Week next year!

Mad March

Like Spring lambs and March hares, children’s writers have been skipping around the country (and the entire world, no doubt) for World Book Day, which seems to have turned into World Book MONTH. My March has been massively manic so far in hopping about the land meeting hundreds of enthusiastic readers in fantastic schools.

How can I forget the delightful classes at Meadows Primary in Oswestry? From the chicks and ducklings foundation classes to the owls, robins and wrens – we had a terrific time writing about animals and discovering all sorts of wow information. Who knew food chains could get so wacky – when we sang ‘There was a young teacher who swallowed a fly’? (to say nothing of a whopping hyena!) Thank you for a super time at your FABULICIOUS school.

Next was the FANTASTILASTIC Stokes Wood Primary in Leicester. What a lovely bunch – the whole school went on a lion hunt with such excitement – you were brilliant! Dressed as all kinds of random animals, the school was buzzing with enthusiasm (to say nothing of bursting with animal knowledge). The writing group did some amazing imaginative work – a big thanks to all.

For World Book Day I was back for my third visit to the SPLENDIFERABULOUS Parks Primary in Leicester. Not only were all the outfits awesome, but the teachers excelled themselves. We had lions, witches and yes, a real walking wardrobe! Thanks to all for still managing to laugh at my jokes for the third time. Apologies to the teacher who walked in just as I was doing a scary sound effect… I think she ran off screaming.

It was great to return to Longdon Hall School near Lichfield. What a warm welcome on such a wintry morning. I don’t know what they give you for school lunch but you’d all grown so much since I saw you last! Thanks to all for a really enjoyable visit – and especially to Adam for operating the PANIC BUTTON for when my stories got super-scary.

Year 6 at Bellfield Primary in Birmingham never cease to amaze me. This time they were truly TERRIFULACIOUS. Our Heroes & Villains session was great fun and everyone knew so much – but when it came to writing about ‘the villain next door’ in just fifteen minutes, the results were astounding. What a great bunch of writers, as well as a really friendly year group. Thank you so much for a SUPERIFICASTAWONDERMEGAMAGICALLORIFIC time!

So… where to next? Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S YOUR PHOBIA?

YIKES! This Spring sees my ‘Science of Fear’ road show go on tour. So if you spot a few knees knocking, it could be down to a few phobias coming to light – measured by my scary-ometer.  Thanks to Teignmouth Community School for a great welcome, where the biggest fear is SEAGULL-PHOBIA!  More soon…

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Out and About

Appledore Book Festival Schools Programme awash with wonders!

‘Awesome’ must be the word. How can a little seaside spot in North Devon bring in so many children’s writers in one week? They put us in the Seagate Hotel then sent us pootling about into all manner of schools around and about. How brilliant is that?

First call for me was Great Torrington School. Apart from having a bit of a stand-up row with my sat-nav (a long story but it involved a combine harvester, a police car and a closed road just a stone’s throw from the school) Erghgh. Anyway, the lovely Mrs Ward (librarian) is a dab-hand with a tea bag so all was soon hunky dory. She’s also a dab-hand at squeezing a multitude of year 7s and 8s into the library. They were delightful, bless ’em. I was so impressed by Finley who knew lots and answered all sorts. And who can forget Owen’s Oscar-winning performance at hyperventilating on cue? Great stuff – thanks for the superb welcome. We must let the Guinness Book of Records know how many we can get in a library for an hour and a half of total bliss!

The welcome at the lovely Libra School was fabulous and the library is so brilliant I could live there… snuggled by the wood-burner (yes, a real live wood burner sizzling in the corner of a library). This little gem of a school in the middle of beautiful Devonshire countryside has a wonderful collection of friendly characters, including Rosie the dog. Everyone was hooked on stories, books and wow information and even Rosie enjoyed a good tail (see what I did there?) I have to admit, I did my best to scare people so sorry if you had nightmares afterwards. Adrian threatened to sue me if that happened!  Thank you all for taking part so enthusiastically and being such a fantastic bunch. Keep up the great work.

READING MATTERS

According to the latest research, poor children – especially boys – are falling behind in reading and writing, which is stunting their progress at school and harming their life prospects.

The report from the “Read On, Get On” campaign says that 4 out of 10 of England’s poorest boys start school without the language skills needed to learn. So what are we doing to bring enrichment, excitement and a love of reading into our classrooms?

My plea is that children, rather than being swamped with ‘literacy’, phonic exercises and spelling tests, should be engaged, enthused and inspired by stories, wow facts, the excitement of language and be allowed to fire their imaginations like never before. This is hardly rocket science, but only by exposing children to the power of books via inspirational storytelling and fascinating information, can we expect the reading bug to be caught. Yes, infection by inspiration was once the norm – so where has it gone?

If education is losing the importance of play, creativity and nurturing imaginations (as I fear it is), we not only risk a decline in reading standards but also hasten the narrowing of minds. At a time when we fear radicalisation and fundamentalism, isn’t it even more necessary to open minds, develop empathy and foster tolerance? Surprise, surprise… books have a considerable track record of doing just that. I dare to suggest a well-read, broadminded and empathetic terrorist is something of a contradiction in terms (or, for any literacy fundamentalist watching, let’s call it an oxymoron and tick another box of prescribed terms covered).

Did you know?

There is strong evidence that reading for pleasure can increase empathy, improve relationships with others, reduce the symptoms of depression and the risk of dementia, and improve wellbeing throughout life, new research carried out for The Reading Agency has found. For more on this, click HERE.  I told you READING MATTERS!

HOT OFF THE PRESS

Shshshsh… it’s a secret

Don’t tell anyone but I have some new adventure fiction just out – quick reads that pack a punch (more thrills, fewer words). Here’s  a quick peep at a couple of covers of these latest ‘white knuckle’ reads in a brand new series called BREAKOUTS from Ransom. Click on the Ransom logo to find out more:

Breakouts covers.qxp_Layout 1      Breakouts covers.qxp_Layout 1

These books feature in some of my presentations so they might be coming to ‘a school near you’ anytime soon.

BREAKOUTS: more thrills – fewer words. A brand new series of quick reads; fast & furious escapes against the odds. Oh yes, they’ve also got incredible real-life facts as an extra bonus!

Shshsh – it’s even more of a secret – so don’t tell a soul (apart from any passing librarian)… my THIRD book in the Breakouts Series arrives in 2016. Although I’m sworn to secrecy, I can tell you STRANGERS ON A PLANE will be nose-diving towards a library near you in the New Year – so hold on tight for a turbulent read…

In case you’re interested… I’m now taking bookings for 2016 (World Book Day & Science Week in March are already booked). Do get in touch or contact my agent at penny@luithlenagency.co.uk  You might just dare to ask about SCARY OR WHAT? Warning: this presentation might stop you sleeping… in the library:-

😯 I DON’T WANT TO ALARM YOU BUT…    WAKE UP! Alarming secrets to make your knees knock (or possibly explode) You have been warned! 🙄 

For more information on my books click HERE or author events HERE

 

Never Odd Or Even

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Thanks to everyone who wrote reviews of my book for the Nottingham Brilliant Book Awards. Here are a few:-

I think this book was different and clever. I think at the end you sort of understand why it is called “never odd or even” The school bully Victor always called Eliot odd but in the end they were even for what they did!!!! I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something that makes you think or if you what to read something different.

Claire – Ockbrook School

I absolutely loved Never Odd or Even – the font was spacey and big, making it a quick and easy book to read. I really loved the story line, as it was really interesting and fantastic. Moreover, I loved the anagrams as they gave you a challenge whilst you were reading.

Corey – Chilwell School

I really liked this book, so much that I found that I was reading it all the time. I think this book will be good for people who like mysteries and working out words and maths. I really like it as at the end Eliot gets his revenge. When you read this book you will read every page of it over and over again! I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone else who wants to read it.

Erin – John Port School

A bully and a genius collide, and everyone knows what happens then. A fantastic novel that traps your mind within the story line and forces it to do its biding. And its biding is; tell everyone how amazing it is. If you can put this book down, then you are not reading it properly for I and all my friends couldn’t. Thank you John Townsend and never stop writing.

Keelan – Chilwell School

Wow! That’s all I can really say! The book is not very long, but every page makes more sense, trust me. The end is shocking. Pick it up, and don’t put it down until you’re finished!

Matthew – Bramcote Park Business & Enterprise School

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Testing Times

The beauty of a blog is that it gives an opportunity for a little rant now and again. It won’t change the world, of course – but a little healthy debate never did any harm. So I begin with a little ditty I offer on my concern for the current ‘educational experiment’. I guess it’s only a matter of time before we wake up to the nonsense of constantly seeking to quantify learning with simplistic and meaningless measurements. After all, if we only value those things which are seemingly measurable, what hope is there? Someone will doubtless come up with league tables for creativity, inspiration and even love – then we’d really have the human condition nailed!

The Proof

When I was born, the midwife smiled and weighed me on the scales.

She measured me from head to toe and wrote down all details.

“Now here’s the proof – we’ve got the truth; assessment never fails.”

 

When I was two, the doctor smiled and measured pulse and heart.

He wrote down numbers on a pad and drew lines on a chart.

“Now here’s the truth – we’ve got the proof; assessment is an art.”

 

When I was five and went to school, they tested us each day.

They noted sums I couldn’t do and words I couldn’t say.

Now here’s the proof, we’ve got the truth; assessment shows the way.’

  

When I moved up from primary school, each week we were assessed.

They set us targets, made us stressed… then set another test.

They found the truth, they had the proof; assessment is the best.

 

They printed spread-sheets every term to prove my work was poor.

Computers analysed results in IQ tests, and more.

They found the truth, they had the proof; assessment gives a score.

 

The world now measures proof and truth – with vigour and great rigour;

As education makes the grade, each child becomes a figure.

But… however much you weigh a pig, you’ll make it grow no bigger.

 

When I expired, I went above to meet with my Creator,

Who smiled and said, “I’ll let you in, and then a little later

I’ll show you hell – that burns so well… from all that flaming data!”

JT