Here, for your amusement and education, are some of the authors and illustrators we have enjoyed this year. As it’s Advent, we’ve gone for 24 – one for each window of your calendar. These are the authors and illustrators that the whole family of bookworms have enjoyed in 2018: authors who have given us great pleasure; fits of the giggles; something to think about; episodes of escape; and moments to treasure.
Last year we set this criteria for qualifying as “Welsh”: firstly, through birth; secondly because parents or grandparents have been born in Wales; and thirdly, through residency – you must have lived in Wales for three successive years.
In alphabetical order, here’s our list (click on author/illustrator name to visit their own website and/or Twitter profile):
Sophie Anderson grew up in Swansea, studied at Liverpool University, and has worked as a geologist and science teacher in several parts of the UK. She wrote textbooks until characters from Slavic fairy tales began appearing in her work. Her debut novel, the House with Chicken Legs (Usborne) was published earlier this year and is amazing. When we reviewed the book on publication we called it “a lyrical and emotional debut; rooted in folklore but completely contemporary. As Marinka struggles with the circle of her own life, we get to explore human themes of friendship, purpose, contentment, life and death.”
As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, Dan Anthony has written extensively for children and a particular favourite of ours is The Bus Stop at the End of the World from 2017. He was born in Cardiff, lives in Penarth, and his radio plays have been performed on Radio Wales, Radio 4 and Radio 2. This year, The Last Big One (Gomer) was an absorbing and important story of self-discovery and belonging.
Peter lives in South Wales and published The Train to Impossible Places (Usborne) in 2018. This terrific fantasy novel was fought over by a number of publishers and is an incredibly inventive story, initially made-up for his children at bedtime. Noah loved it saying that it has “everything” a fantasy novel needs and Daddy agreed – it’s perfect for fans of Harry Potter, CS Lewis, Enid Blyton and Doctor Who! As the first in a series, we’re going to be hearing plenty more about PG Bell.
Zillah was born in Papua New Guinea and came to the UK when she was 8. A graduate of Wadham College, Oxford, she settled in South Wales and has published two fantastic novels aimed at the #mglit market. A Whisper of Horses came in paperback during 2018 together with the fantastic news that Zillah’s next book will be published with Usborne.
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Monmouthshire with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. Her Bloomsbury-published ‘The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart’ is a favourite in our house and its sequel ‘The Girl with the Dragon Heart’ landed in 2018. We thought it was a compelling thriller with brilliant characters in a totally absorbing world. 9 year old Nina absolutely loves both books and cherishes them.
Dr Lucy Christopher was born in Wales but went to school and university in Melbourne, Australia. She moved back to the UK to study an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, as well as a PhD in Creative Writing. She is now a Senior Lecturer on the successful MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. This year she published her fourth novel, Storm-wake (Chicken House), a delightful homage to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Full of lyrical phraseology, Storm-wake is a visceral experience.
Karin Celestine is a fibre artist, writer and illustrator living in Monmouth. She needle felts small creatures and tells stories from her small shed workshop. She loves swimming. But Bertram doesn’t. In 2018, she added two more books to her canon (yes, we’re calling it that), Bertram Loves to Sew and Bert’s Garden (Both Graffeg). Karin’s books are full of love and gentleness and extol the virtues of kindness and calm – they are an absolute delight!
Nathan is an illustrator born and bred in South Wales. He graduated from Swansea College of Art, with a degree in Illustration. He works with traditional and digital media. In 2018 he illustrated the Anthology of Amazing Women (20Watt) and also produced new cover art for a new edition of The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (Piccadilly) – the first of the Lewis Barnavelt series. The second book in the series, A Figure in the Shadows, with another cover by Nathan will be published in January.
James Davies is an illustrator and author born in Wales, but now living in Bristol. He graduated from the University of the West of England in 2009 with a first class degree in Illustration. During his studies he received a “highly commended” in the 2008 Macmillan Prize and he’s focused on creating children’s books ever since. In 2018, he published two non-fiction books – Meet The… Ancient Egyptians and Meet The… Ancient Romans (Big Picture Press) and a fabulous picture book entitled Long Dog (Templar). Long Dog has had us laughing aloud for months – we love James’ bold illustrative style and his sense of humour works for both adults and children.
Nicola Davies was born in Birmingham and worked as a zoologist and TV Presenter before settling in Powys to write. Many of her books are rooted in her scientific training and are essential additions to any library. These successful narrative non-fiction books cover, amongst other things, the diversity of living things, microbes, owls and bears. Recent picture books published by Walker and Graffeg have delved more deeply into the human condition providing opportunities for children to reflect on refugees, grief and trauma. In 2018 she was nominated for the Tir na nOg Award and published a number of books (we lost count at 9) including the important The Day War Came (Walker), as well as new additions to the Shadows and Light series.
Thomas Docherty is an author and illustrator living in Swansea – he has produced a number of picture books on his own and with his wife Helen, our favourites being The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight and Snatchabook. He is also the illustrator for the Polly Puffin books written by Jenny Colgan. In 2018, he illustrated a new edition of Julia Donaldson’s World War II play, Bombs and Blackberries (Hodder) – a stunning depiction that allows readers to empathise with characters and really feel the power of emotions as they ‘read’ the pictures.
Jonny spent his childhood in North Wales and recently returned to the ‘wet and windy hills’. After studying illustration at college he wrote his first picture book ‘The Pirate Cruncher’ which was published in 2009. Subsequently, he helped design the characters for Aardman’s stop-motion movie ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’. More picture books followed with a focus on pirates, dinosaurs and space. He also produced a full set of brilliant designs for the Harry Potter covers in 2014. In 2018, he published the long awaited Pirates of Scurvy Sands (Templar) – a fantastic and fun/pun-filled joyfest. This isn’t just any illustration, this is Jonny Duddle illustration – oozes quality.
Claire was born in Cardiff and used to work in the science library of Cardiff University. The award-winning Accidental Pirates books (Macmillan) are ideal for children in Year 4 (age 8 upwards). In 2018, Claire published Mirror Magic, a fabulously imaginative adventure full of fairy magic. We also got to make a video interview with her on the book’s publication!
Catherine Fisher was born in Newport, and her fantasy books are aimed at Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Having worked as a teacher, lecturer and archaeologist it is no surprise that her books are often set in Wales and are heavily influenced by Arthurian legends, old myths and the Mabinogion. Her latest, The Clockwork Crow is influenced by the Tylwyth Teg, the fairy folk of Wales who take children from their homes and is set in Victorian times – it’s a brilliantly atmospheric story with gothic fantasy overtones and a superbly tetchy eponymous crow.
Sam Hay grew up in Scotland, and always wanted to be a writer. She trained as a journalist in Edinburgh and worked in newspapers and television in London. Then she moved to Wales to have a family and start writing her first children’s book. Since then she’s had around 30 books published including the Undead Pets series about zombie animals and Screaming Sands, a ghostly trilogy set at the seaside. In 2018, Sam published Star in the Jar, a picture book with Sarah Massini (Egmont) and A Very Corgi Christmas, illustrated by Loretta Schauer (Simon & Schuster).
Valériane is a French and Quebecker artist who has lived near Aberystwyth since 2007. Primarily a painter, her artworks often deal with the idea of belonging, how people inhabit the land, what makes the place they call home. Valériane Leblond has illustrated a number of picture books, in Welsh and English (and other languages too!). This year she illustrated Merch y Mêl/Little Honey Bee by Caryl Lewis (Lolfa) and Cymru Ar Y Map/Wales On The Map by Elin Meek (Rily). We just love Valériane’s style – the folksy houses, the agricultural landscapes, the light and the dark – we could happily buy everything in her Etsy shop!
Gill Lewis’ family are from the Gower and it is clear that the landscape and wildlife of Wales has inspired her. In a National Trust article
, she says “I remember many childhood holidays pootling about on the water at Whiteford. In fact I think it gave me my love of estuaries – places of change, where the sea, the sky and the earth become one, and watching the multitude of life feeding on the ebb and flow of the tides.” Gill trained as a vet and travelled the world to work – from Africa to the Arctic. After having children, she rediscovered her love of stories and returned to University to study. Her first novel, Sky Hawk, received an avalanche of award nominations. More novels with themes of conservation, the environment and animal welfare followed, and this year she published Run Wild (Barrington Stoke). We felt this book was a passionate and compelling argument not just for the rewilding of nature but for connecting children to the wild too. A fantastic story to be cherished.
Max Low is a graduate of Hereford School of Art, and now lives and works in Wales. In 2018 he illustrated Bee Boy and The Moonflowers (Graffeg), written by Nicola Davies. He also published his first solo picture books, also with Graffeg. Ceri and Deri – Good To Be Sweet and No Time For Clocks are the first two in a series and we just love Max’s dynamic, animated, colourful style which reminds Daddy Worm of TV cartoons Roobarb and Custard, Chorlton and the Wheelies and Magic Roundabout.
Jackie Morris lives on the wild Pembrokeshire coast. Before settling there, she had lived in Evesham and London. She is inspired by “our” environment; particularly the birds (peregrines, goldfinch, buzzards), seals, foxes and landscapes surrounding her home. She says “I am a stranger here, a foreigner. And yet I am at home.” Her beautifully illustrated international bestselling books have wide appeal, and are mostly published by Frances Lincoln, Graffeg and Otter-Barry. Following on from last year’s The Lost Words (with Rob MacFarlane), and Mrs Noah’s Pockets (with James Mayhew), 2018 saw new artist editions of Tell Me A Dragon, The Snow Leopard and The Ice Bear (all published by Graffeg).
Jenny Nimmo has lived in Wales for most of her life, having married Welsh artist David Wynn Millward in 1974. Her stories are rooted in Welsh mythology and she is also inspired by the landscapes of Wales. She appeals to Junior age children (age 7 and up) and has plenty to occupy them – 2018 saw the 30th anniversary of The Snow Spider Trilogy and a new story, Gabriel and the Phantom Sleepers. This new book features ancient supernatural beings and a wicked sorceress, while Gabriel must strive to lift an evil curse. Another exceptional story from a writer of supreme skill.
Gavin Puckett is from South Wales, where he lives with his wife, young son and their beloved cat, George. Gavin was the winner of the 2013 Greenhouse Funny Prize, and his first book ‘Murray the Horse’ was published with Faber Children’s in June 2015. In 2018, the fourth Fable from the Stable was published entitled Poppy the Police Horse – another hilarious horsey tail written in rhyming verse – perfectly achievable for new readers and reluctant readers. A really enjoyable series with one more to come in 2019!
Hailing from Llanelli, Wendy White was inspired by her local library to become an author. Her books for children are available from Gwasg Gomer and have a Welsh theme. Welsh Cakes and Custard won the Tir-na-n-Og Award in 2014 and last year’s St David’s Day is Cancelled is a joyous tale for 7-9 year olds. This year, Wendy gave us Mamgu’s Campervan (Gomer) – another fun story with its boots firmly planted in Welsh soil.
Eloise Williams lives in West Wales. She has worked on stage as a singer and an actress after graduating from the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. 2017’s Gaslight, a Victorian thriller won the Wales Arts Review Children’s Book of the Year. In 2018, Eloise published Seaglass (Firefly), a chilling ghost story with captivating characters and wild and windy (Welsh) landscapes. Gripping.
Justine Windsor is a previously shortlisted author of The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition. She lives in Cardiff and this year her third middle grade crime caper ‘Goodly and Grave’ was published (Harper Collins). Goodly and Grave in a Case of Bad Magic is an accomplished and witty detective (ish) novel for younger readers aged 8 up.