Archive for the category “About the Abominators”

Best letter EVER

I have this weekend received what is a strong contender for MY BEST EVER LETTER, EVER.

It is from 8 year old Basil Ignatius Hong who says:
“This is what I think about the Abominators: It’s enjoyable, funny and awesome. I am glad that I borrowed the book from the Singapore National Library and read it. My favourite character is Mucker, leader of the gang, kind and has a cool image. Thank you for creating such a nice story for cool dude like me! By the way, I am 8 years old and am a handsome nice fellow!”

THANK YOU Basil Ignatius Hong. With your magnificent letter you have made my day, week, month and possibly year!

Want to write? Never give up

As I approached my late thirties I was pretty sure that my dreams of being in print were well and truly over.

Encouraged by my English professor at University, the poet Philip Hobsbaum, I’d had poetry and short stories published, and I tried to write a big ‘serious’ novel in my twenties. The novel I wrote was structurally a mess and didn’t fit any recognisable genre, and so unsurprisingly it did not win me an agent or a publishing deal, although I had a very kind letter from Robin Robertson at Jonathan Cape encouraging me to ‘keep going’.

What went wrong? I became unsure of myself, I lost my confidence for a while. Then stuff happened. My dad died. I had my first child. I had my second child. There was always an excuse not to put myself on the line again, not to make myself vulnerable, open to rejection.

I could never stop writing altogether. I wrote lots of short stories (which I never sent anywhere), but I pretty much gave up on every being published, which was quite heartbreaking. Wanting to write had been part of my identity since I’d been about four years old. It was how I justified to myself all my daydreaming, it was why no other career had ever completely ‘grabbed’ me. If I wasn’t ever going to be a writer, then who was I?

One day a friend said ‘You’re funny. Why don’t you write funny?’, because she knew I was a huge comedy fan and I went to a lot of stand up. You could call me a comedy nerd, following lots of comedy from here and the US, the quirkier the better (I love ‘Episodes’, ‘This is Jinsy’, ‘Black Books’, ‘Gavin and Stacey’, ‘Inside Number 9’, ‘League of Gentlemen’, ‘Nighty Night’, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Seinfeld’, ’30 Rock’, the list goes on and on.) It did seem odd that I’d never tried writing humour before, since I love it so much.

Although I’ve always read and loved all types of fiction from all genres, I’d always felt that I should be writing something very serious and ‘important’. Was this the curse of studying English Literature? I don’t know. But I had a word with myself and decided to loosen up and have some fun, instead of trying to write the next ‘Ulysses’.

I bought Carole Blake’s book ‘From Pitch to Publication’ which helped me to understand the nuts and bolts of writing a book for a particular market. I decided to try teenage humorous fiction. Carole Blake’s advice worked, because a few years later I had two teen novels published by Scholastic –  ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’ and ‘My Big Fat Teen Crisis’ for girls aged 11-15, both humorous but with serious issues in there too.

Then I was lucky enough to have ‘The Abominators’ published by Little Brown Young Readers. It is a series for children aged 6-11 which I wrote for my own sons. It is about a very posh boy called Cecil Trumpington Potts who wears silk pants with the family crest embroidered on them. He has never met any other children, he wears his hair in a centre parting and he talks in baby talk. When he joins Grimely East Primary school he decides that he wants to join the most mischievous gang in Year 5, ‘The Abominators’. What could possibly go wrong…?

Today I am sitting pinching myself because not only has ‘The Abominators’ series made it into print (in 2013), but last week on World Book Day a primary school pupil dressed up as Cecil Trumpington Potts, and today his teacher sent me the photo below (with permission to use it).

This is year 4 pupil Ben, I can’t say where he lives and what school he goes to, but he has absolutely MADE MY DAY. He recreated Cecil’s bow tie and his centre parting – and the family crest on the panty wanty woos!

If someone had told me when I was on the verge on giving up on writing, that a child would be going to World Book Day dressed up as a character from my imagination, I would never have believed them. Thank you Ben, and thank you to all the children who have read and enjoyed ‘The Abominators’ and my other books (including the 6000+ children who have borrowed them from UK libraries). You have made it all worthwhile, and I’ve had SO MUCH fun along the way! I’m glad I did not give up.

The Abominators

Year 4 pupil Ben dressed as Cecil Trumpington Potts on World Book Day

A wonderful endorsement

As a new writer, it is SO HARD to get noticed. There are thousands of new children’s books out there and if you are not a famous name, why should anybody pay attention to yours?

I put my heart and soul into ‘The Abominators’, most children who have had the chance to read them have loved the books. The trouble is, I have not been able to get the shelf space in the big bookshops and WH Smith to generate significant sales, and there is only so much that word of mouth can do.

Which is why this endorsement from Bookbabblers is so lovely. For the Abominators to be voted one of their TOP TEN reads of 2013 is a huge boost, and a great way to end the year.

The Abominators by J.L Smith

Review here:



Long overdue, just updated my author page on Amazon

I have just updated my author page on Amazon to read as follows:

My name is Jen Smith – I write teen books under the name Jenny Smith, and books for 7-10 year olds under the name J.L. Smith.

I live in Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, with my family and my small dog Angus. My ambition is to swim with whales, dolphins and porpoises, unfortunately the local leisure centre is not being co-operative.

2013 sees the publication of ‘The Abominators’ series for children aged 7-10. This was written to encourage one of my sons (who is dyslexic and was not a confident reader) to read, and is filled with humour, ridiculousness, naughtiness and pranks which I knew would appeal to him. It is illustrated by the brilliant Sam Hearn, who really brings the story to life with his hilarious line drawings. At a visit by a group of Year 4s to our local bookshop, 26 out of 38 children (that’s 7 out of 10) voted for The Abominators to take back for their school library. The reviews so far are very encouraging.

I was born and brought up in Glasgow, and loved to write from a very young age thanks to my father’s storytelling.

I have a blog where I review books and talk about writing and life in general called

In my early twenties I worked in Africa for a relief and development charity. I am so glad I had this experience because since then I’ve never been overly attached to possessions and ‘stuff’. It is relationships, friendships and experiences that represent your life. I put this message across in ‘The Abominators’ where Cecil and his father are no longer rich, but Cecil has never been happier because now he has friends.

I returned to the UK and joined school text book publishers Heinemann (now Pearson), where part of my job was organising author visits to schools. I met and was inspired by children’s authors Anne Fine, Dick King-Smith and Nigel Hinton. Meeting them made me think ‘maybe one day I could do that’.

I don’t think that studying English Literature at University helped me in my writing. Studying the ‘greats’ meant that I never thought that anything I wrote was good enough. I submitted a very serious literary novel to publishers in the early 1990s (with the encouragement of none other than Professor Philip Hobsbaum, highly respected poet and English Literature lecturer), and although I had some encouragement from Robin Robertson who was then at Jonathan Cape it went no further. This confirmed all of my insecurities and I was so discouraged I did not write anything (except a few short stories and poems) for twelve years.

In 2006 a good friend said to me: ‘You’re funny, you should write funny’. This led to the first draft of ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’, which was accepted by Scholastic in 2008. It was published in 2011, followed by ‘My Big Fat Teen Crisis’ which came out in 2012. ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’ has been published in eight other countries, and is doing very well in France and Germany.

I’ve appeared twice on Dave Gorman’s radio comedy show ‘Genius’, love watching stand up and comedy and think humour is not just important, it is a divine force (put that in your pipe and smoke it, literary snobs).

As my day job I am a freelance copywriter. I write (on a voluntary basis) for charities at the Clare Foundation. I can be contacted on:

I think that libraries are important and we should safeguard them, whatever future form they may take. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds need a place where they can access great literature free of charge, this is a right that must not be lost. My father came from a poor background and he educated himself in his local library.

Sam Hearn’s very funny illustrations

Sam Hearn is the illustrator of The Abominators and incredibly talented. He takes elements of the story and consistently adds value.

Here are a few of the fantastic illustrations from Book 3 – since it’s not out till July this is a sneak preview…

The joy of getting the advance copy through the post

The postman has just been. And look what he brought.


The third book in the Abominators series! It’s such an exciting moment when you hold it in your hands for the first time, this culmination of hours and hours of dreaming, planning, writing, revising and then… here it is!

The first thing I see when I open it is the dedication to my dad (remember my ‘The Man Who Loved Stories’ post?)


Then I look at all of the fantastic illustrations by Sam Hearn which have brought the story to life.




After the excitement, my friend who had only recently popped in, came back to tell me she had just had a text to say she’d passed her PGCE! Her husband died very suddenly while she was doing the course, leaving her with their two teenage sons. This lady, with incredible determination, finished the course with only one term’s extension. There are not enough words to tell you how much I, and many others, admire her.

We shared a hug. There are no medals for everyday bravery and dignity in the face of what life can throw at us. But if there were, she would deserve the biggest, shiniest one going.

Chatterbooks in Aylesbury

On Tuesday I went to Aylesbury library to have a reading session with some children who are members of the ‘Chatterbooks’ scheme. The scheme encourages reading in Primary age children and is a chance for them to talk about what they’ve read.

This visit was organised by the events organiser at the library, Ben Foster. He’d sent me some very funny emails offering a limo and champagne so I felt relaxed before I even got there.

The group were all enthusiastic, with one little girl in particular full of questions. We talked about how many possibilities language gives us. They all made up silly names for themselves and then I challenged them to tell me something about the characters who might have those names. One boy said that his character was very tiny when he was not feeling confident, but could be a giant when he was feeling brave. Every one of them came up with a strong idea and I think got the point that ideas are about putting things together and seeing if they make sense or if they create something new.

At one point they asked about my books for teenagers. I was trying to explain the plot of ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’ and told them that the lead character was writing a manual about how to ‘operate’ grown ups. One little girl asked what the manual would be, and I said that it would be a complete user’s guide, so you had full instructions about operating your grown up.

“I REALLY need one of these!” she cried, clapping her hands together.

There were twin boys there, very bright and full of questions about writing. One of them shyly showed me an exercise book which was crammed full of his story, you could see he’d put in hours of work and it was impressive for somebody still at Primary school. I was glad I had talked to them about planning out stories and being selective as you write, I think he took it on board and I hope it will help him.

Then his twin brother asked me to sign a piece of paper and said: “Could you please write a message to me telling me to not let my brother give up writing, because he’s really good.”

I swallowed down the lump which was forming in my throat, and did exactly that.

Great visit, great kids, well done Chatterbooks.

A non freelance day

This morning I’m going to visit Luise Pattison at The Book House in Thame, to talk about school visits, the literary festival, and how much we love books.

Have had a fantastic email this morning from Freddy Shannon, the librarian at Watlington Primary School. I’d asked for some feedback about my author visit there.

She said:

“Our year 3s are still buzzing from your visit and “the Abominators” has become the most requested book in the library, still running on a waiting list despite selling 43 copies on the day! One mother stopped me just last weekend and said how much her daughter had enjoyed your visit and that it had turned her from a very reluctant reader into an avid one (an almost impossible task according to her ! – There is obviously something about the “Panty Wanty Woos”).”

Since this is not one of my freelance days, when I have my nose to the grindstone writing brochures, leaflets, ads, newsletters etc, my plans for the day include…

  • working some more on a few new short stories I’ve been writing (I’m experimenting with some short stories for teenagers just as a way of playing with ideas – plus I’ve always loved short stories (Alice Munro is my heroine))
  • working on some more Abominators ideas
  • going for a walk with Angus, the West Highland terrier/meerkat cross
  • going to the Post Office to post a couple of books to people
  • doing some very boring paperwork/tidying up
  • staring into space
  • taking the kids to drumming and piano lessons after school – both are at practically the same time (but in different places of course, it would be far too easy otherwise)
  • going to Book Group at Paddington Clare’s house tonight – we’re discussing ‘The End of the Affair’

Chatterbooks in Aylesbury 4th June

Chatterbooks is a fantastic scheme in local libraries where children and teenagers meet to discuss books they’ve read. I’m lucky enough to have gone along to a Chatterbooks session at Beaconsfield library, and in June I’m going to one at Aylesbury library.

It’s great to meet enthusiastic readers and talk about what books they enjoy. Thank you, Aylesbury library, and Ben Foster, for this poster to advertise the event. Ben has offered me vintage wine and a limo of course, but I’ve settled for a chariot, pulled by a large team of West Highland terriers…


Snitchy Grass Blabber Mouth

A review of ‘The Abominators’ (for children, especially boys, aged 7-10) on the ‘We Love This Book’ website enjoys the gang’s unusual use of language.

“An entertaining and witty story that makes you snigger out loud, it’s books like The Abominators that will surely put an end to those pesky rumours that boys don’t like to read.

Mucker, Cheesy, Bob and Boogster are the mischievous gang of mates who call themselves The Abominators. They get up to harmless-no-good and highlight how silly teachers can sometimes be. The newest member, posh boy Cecil Trumpington-Potts, isn’t someone the gang would ever have really chosen to join the crew, but he proves he’s more than just a wimpy panty-wanty wearer!

Mr Nutter, the name Smith has given to the head teacher at Grimely East Primary, will make all readers grin. Isn’t that what everyone has dreamt of calling their head teacher at some point? The story takes you on many different adventures, daft pranks and barmy initiations to find out if Trumpington-Potts can really cut the mustard as part of The Abominators. The book will sit perfectly on the shelf next to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Horrid Henry stories.

The language is spot on, with things like ‘wuss-head’, ‘grebby guzzler’ and ‘Snitchy Grass Blabber Mouth’: you can almost hear Mucker and his mates saying it to each other. The black and white illustrations bring the words even more to life and are another crafty way of adding some more cheekiness.”

Helen Dugdale, ‘We Love This Book’ website

Post Navigation