Tag Archives: Julia Draper

Johnny in the trees

The Chocolate Brownie


Johnny has a tree house.

His Dad helped him make it out of strong planks of wood. It has a proper roof, a little door and a window. The best thing is the ladder. It’s made of rope and bits of wood and goes all the way up the trunk. Johnny can pull the ladder up into his tree house and no one can reach him. No one.

When Johnny is in his tree he can feel the branches moving and hear the leaves rustling. He keeps some of his things up there – a very big shell, a poster of sharks, a tin of sweets and his book of football stickers. His Mum cut a log down the middle to make a shelf to put his best dinosaurs on.

She comes into the garden and stands at the bottom of the tree.

‘Johnny, time to do your spellings. Come down please.’

Johnny does not answer. A big crow lands on a branch near him. He likes the sound it makes.

Kark! Kark!’

When the bird makes the noise Johnny can see right into its beak. The crow’s eyes are like two black beads and the feathers are black and spiky.

‘Come on.’ His Mum’s still standing there.


Now Johnny’s little brother Dan is standing at the bottom of the tree.

‘Johnny?’ calls Dan.

Johnny does not answer.

‘Johnny, can I come up into the tree house. Please?’

‘Go away Dan, I don’t want you up here.’

‘Please, Johnny.’

‘Go away. Mum says you’re not allowed up here. You’re too little.’

A clump of acorns rattles onto Johnny’s roof. The noise makes him jump.

Now his sister Beth is standing at the bottom of the tree.

‘Mum’s made chocolate brownies, Johnny. If you don’t come down now I will eat yours.’

‘You wouldn’t dare!’

Johnny looks out of his little window. He can see Beth way down below. He looks down and thinks of the brownie. All squidgy and still warm from the oven. Beth holds the brownie half inside her mouth. Her eyes are all big and round.

Just then he hears voices in the garden below. Beth’s friends have come to play with her. She skips off, still holding the brownie.

He leans out of his tree house to count Beth’s friends. He’s very high up and it’s hard to see down through the leaves.

One’s called Jess, and another one’s called Ali. That’s two. Then he hears Sammy and Holly, the twins. Beth comes back and her friends follow. They stand under the tree, laughing. Five of them. No, six if you count Dan.

‘Well, do you want your brownie or not?’ Beth calls. ‘We’ve all had ours but there’s just this one left.’ She looks around at her friends. ‘We could share it out between us, couldn’t we girls?’

‘…and me,’ says Dan.

Johnny shouts, ‘Wait! Wait, I’m coming down.’

He throws the rope ladder out of his tree house and starts to climb down.


Johnny climbs down a few rungs of the ladder.


He climbs down some more rungs,


And then down the last few.


He jumps down to the ground and snatches the brownie out of Beth’s hand. It crumbles into bits. He picks the biggest bit up, but it’s got grass and a slug on it now.

He stuffs it in his mouth. Then he turns and starts climbing back up his ladder. When he gets to the top, puffing, he pulls the ladder up. Then he lies on the wooden floor of his tree-house, listening.

‘He ate the slug!’ says Jess.

‘He can’t have,’ says Holly.

‘He did, he did! Yuk!’ says Ali.

‘I feel sick just thinking about it,’ says Sammy.

‘Brave!’ Dan says.

Beth knows that Johnny would never eat a slug. But she doesn’t say anything.

Story by Julia Draper. (c) All rights reserved.


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Ploughing for inspiration

As a city girl, growing up first in London and then industrial Luton, I never dreamed that one day I’d spend more time in wellies than heels – and become a farmer! But that was where my career led me for more than a decade. In a beautiful corner of rural Essex I learned to drive tractors and spent each autumn ploughing the heavy boulder clay from dawn to dusk, and sometimes into the night. Acre after acre.
The experience turned me into ‘a watcher’, mindful of any tiny change in the landscape. And it forged a deep spiritual connection, especially with the other watchers who sometimes showed up … The deer, for instance, who scattered at the sight of a human figure, yet never seemed bothered by the to and fro of our monster machines as they strained across the fields.

The Watchers

Autumn has drawn a foggy curtain
Over the farm by the church,
Trading rich summer gold for burnt coppers
Scattered and spent among the leaves.
In the fading gloom
A tractor driver traces patterns
Across the ploughed land.
Absorbed in mechanical rhythm he moves,
Away from the church, towards the wood,
Away from the wood, towards the church,
Changing the face of the earth
With every pass.
A noise disturbs him
Jangling off-beat and out-of-tune.
Resigned and weary he climbs from the cab
To fumble in the mud
And remove a rusty horse shoe
Hooked up in the harrows.
How many bouts to go?
How many have been here before?
Later, turning into the homeward stretch,
With just enough light to see,
He is startled by two deer
Watching close by
Like statues – strange, silent and beautiful,
Unperturbed by his roaring machine
As it strains across the heavy clay.
And in that dusky moment
His heart misses a beat,
Filled with splendour so measureless
He holds his breath
Knowing it will slip away.
The last rays melt behind the spire.
As he reaches the lane, he yawns,
Thinking of supper and a good night’s rest.
The seedbed is ready, the pattern is complete.
Poem by Jenny Landor
Illustrations by Julia Draper

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Autumn fun in a nutshell

Apples, blackberries and pumpkins… Nature’s grand autumnal finale always triggers in me a kind of elation no other season can match. Ever since childhood, it’s been my favourite time of year. The shortening days, tinged with melancholy, the smell of ploughed earth and the prospect of bonfires are definitely part of it. And I still can’t resist kicking up the leaves – especially under the horse chestnuts where the greatest treasure of all might suddenly gleam up at me: the perfect conker.


Preparing for combat

Last week saw the celebration of one of the country’s most traditional games at the World Conker Championship in Southwick, Northamptonshire. Organised by the Ashton Conker Club, the contest has been running for fifty years. It attracts thousands of visitors and teams from the around the world who fight it out like gladiators, armed only with a nut and 12 inches of string. All of which prompted me to add the following piece of fun to our creative archive. Someone once told me that it isn’t just about good hand-eye coordination and the desire to conquer. You have to psych your opponent out …

Just a game

Okay, now here’s the thing
It’s a nut on the end of a knotted string.
You hit mine, I SMASH yours …
Yes, let’s go play out of doors.
This is my favourite,
See that gleam?
It knows it’s on the winning team.
Good question; how can I possibly tell?
I partly oven-baked the shell.
Ha! Only joking.
Are you ready?
Three fat misses!
My turn, hold steady.
No, the sun wasn’t in your eyes.
That’s the rule, you had your tries.
What’s wrong?
Oh, please.
Don’t go bonkers,
It’s just a simple game of conkers.


William the Conker leading his minion hordes.

Poem and photo by Jenny Landor
Illustration by Julia Draper

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Good, better, best

Good, better, best?

I was struck by a line in a Guardian article in the arts section about the finalists for a well-known photography award: the writer was wondering how a photograph of such banality could have won the prize. Presumably someone—one’s assuming at least a quorum on the judging panel anyway—thought the entry stunning, exciting, original, technically outstanding and the best in its field. But that’s the problem with awarding prizes for art forms, which are (almost by definition) subjective: someone with excellent credentials always disagrees with the choice.
In 2012 the judging panel of three fiction jurors read 300 novels for the Pulitzer prize, which is covered in this illuminating article:
http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/letter-from-the-pulitzer-fiction-jury-what-really-happened-this-year One of those judges wrote: “Many of the entries were easy to dismiss as trivial, or badly written or lurid or overblown or mawkish.” Which does make me wonder just how quickly into the reading process those entries were thrown aside as being unworthy. One of the judges shot himself in the foot by admitting that each of them had a very different set of criteria and that “members of any jury are possessed of particular tastes and opinions and… absolute objectivity is impossible.” Mysteriously, the board decided that year not to award the prize at all, which raises its own questions. Were they not looking in the right place? Why have judges at all if you overrule them? Who are on this board anyway?
Writing and other art forms are so obviously not like running a race, or getting the most goals or answering the most correct questions in a pub quiz. Personally, one of the absolutely best aspects of going in for creative activities is that it’s almost impossible to be wrong, and that realisation is incredible liberating. So how destructive might it be to put yourself forward for an award where the word failure hangs unspoken over everyone who didn’t win? Hypocrisy rules, of course: before you ask, I’d be the first to rejoice if someone told me my book was the best they’d ever read.
The novelist Edward St Aubyn has written a book called Lost For Words, which Deborah Cohen reviews in an article for American Prospect: http://prospect.org/article/have-literary-prizes-lost-their-meaning-have-they-ever-had-any
The novel is a hilarious satire on the shoddy (and shady) goings-on amongst the judges of a literary prize and includes celebrity judges who don’t bother to read the books and a cookbook—included by accident—which makes it to the final stages. It’s not obvious whether this is written by a disappointed and embittered “loser”, someone with insider knowledge or just a writer enjoying a fictitious peek into that world. But Deborah Cohen makes a more serious and controversial point. “Cultural prizes notoriously reward the wrong works for the wrong reasons,” she writes. Stirring stuff. I have been part of a book group for twenty years and we are these days pretty wary of reading a “prize-winning novel” as too many of us have found them over long, unfathomable and—unsurprisingly—over-hyped.
Tim Parks—himself a seriously good writer—is disarmingly honest about literary awards and, in an article in the New York Review of Books,
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/oct/06/why-nobel-prize-literature-silly/ talks us through the selection process for no less an award than the Nobel Prize for Literature.He goes into some detail about the political, historical and cultural baggage which has come to dictate the award. He concludes by admitting the “essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously.” (I assume, though that the nominees take it seriously!) I’m sure that being nominated for a literary prize must feel great. It means that before the process has even started you belong to a club of writers pre-selected for their excellence. Why would you not take it seriously? Unfortunately very few literary prizes are open to independently published authors, and until that changes I can simply plough my own creative furrow with integrity and passion and rejoice at every satisfied reader. Reward enough, for now.

Julia Draper

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An author by any other name

Here’s a test: judged purely on their names, which genre do you think these authors write in? Winifred Futtock, Colin Smith, Lorelei Chase, Theodora Clench, John Myszkowski, Chantelle Blake. And just to confuse you here are the titles of their books so you can have fun matching author to title: The tyranny of the balcony: what your bra says about you; A History of Baseball; Blue: my love affair with erotica; Bunny’s Birthday; Bonemasters; The Tale of Snatcher Bagpole.

Just in case you’re already resenting the waste of grey matter trying to second guess the ‘answers’ I’ll reveal all: the titles and the authors’ names are all invented but hopefully the excercise threw up a few questions. Does it really matter what you call yourself as an author? Does it only matter if you write in certain genres? Perhaps (with understandable insecurity) an indie writer could be forgiven for imagining that with a name like Colin Smith you might not be optimising your chances of selling a book about erotica. There may be a more basic problem if your surname is the unpronounceable Polish-sounding one above: that poor author has to grapple with the unhappy possibility of a reader going into a bookshop and asking for ‘…that John something-or-other, you know, that unpronounceable one beginning with m—lots of consonants, you know the one…’ His name will probably only trip off the tongue if/when he becomes well known; a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.

And what of those writers who choose to be JK; GK; PL; HG; CS. or HE.? Are they trying to sound anonymous? (“Judge me by my novel and not my exotic/boring/strange Christian name”.) Alternatively,perhaps for some there is more than a whiff of prep school culture around giving yourself initials alone. (“Chesterton G.K., second form prize for Divinity…”) But there may be a more obvious strategy if you’re female; simply wanting your name to be gender neutral. Tricky territory, and guaranteed to ruffle feathers.

Some novelists adopt a pseudonym because they are known for a particular genre and want to break into another. The marketing department is thrown into disarray if you’re known for coming-of-age frothy romps for a largely female readership and you suddenly produce a darkly violent thriller set in nineteen eighties East London.

By a happy accident the inimitable and utterly brilliant Edward Gorey was possessed of a name that could be jumbled to produce the alternative Ogdred Weary. Strangely apt and evocative for a writer of dark, faintly menacing tales about small children.

Aside from the prosaic commercial reasons for adopting a nom-de-plume what fun it would be to dream up an alter ego. We are, after all, in the business of ‘making things up’. How about embracing the new image with strings of rather noisy beads, a velvet cloak lined with purple silk and a handbag containing nothing but a box of truffles, a pair of knickers and a plan of the Moscow underground? But I’m getting carried away now.

Seriously, any suggestions for that pseudonym, now that you know my innermost fantasies?

Julia Draper

Find my novel for children The Paupers of Langden here.




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Electrik Inc – the power of five

Electrik Inc celebrated its third birthday last month with an important decision – to welcome on board a new member. We already had someone in mind we very much admired, an indie publisher who, like the rest of the team, completed her apprenticeship on Bath Spa’s Writing for Young People MA some years ago. To our delight she agreed to join us. Time, then, to introduce our fifth inkling star … Drum roll, please … Here she is to tell us a little about herself; author, editor, publisher, artist and singer – Julia Draper.


Julia Draper

Julia Draper

I have been writing for squillions of years. Despite having a twin brother (whom I love, BTW), I was a funny lonely child; I always felt as if I was on the edge of a circle of people looking in wistfully, wanting to join in but not really knowing how. I think I’m still like that, happier watching and noticing than being watched and noticed. Maybe it’s a common enough writer’s syndrome. I completed the MA in Writing for Young People in 2004/5 and since then have been on a mission to build a little following of readers who like what I write. I love drawing, art, beaches, fish and chips, trees, singing church music, accents (I don’t have one and wish I did). I hate plastic bags and chewing-gum. My ambition is to have an illegible signature and to go back to the Outer Hebrides.

I’m thrilled and honoured to be joining Electrik Inc. There is so much expertise in the group that hopefully we all bring as much as we take. And as my three lovely boys will tell me, I spent a lot of time when they were younger telling them that you only get out what you put in. 

Indie publishing is where it’s at, folks. Beats working in a benefits office, tightrope walking, selling double-glazing and serving carrots to people who don’t want to eat carrots. We have an obligation to make self-published books as good as they possibly can be. That way the status of the profession is raised and it becomes more respected and valued.

The Paupers of Langden My book is called The Paupers of Langden and was published in February 2014. I had huge fun illustrating it and designing the cover, less fun doing the formatting; plates were thrown. It’s been very well received and has a great review in the August 2014 issue of Books for Keeps plus a load of five star reviews on Amazon. There’s a spoiled princessy princess, a plucky servant, some seriously nasty posh people and a murder plot. And a horrible disease you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Actually, you might, in all honesty.

I’m currently working on the sequel, which is called Green Gold.

Julia Draper



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