Just back from a weekend in Sussex attending the annual conference of the Children's Book Group Federation. Two authors stood out for me this year. Ali Sparke was only given a seminar slot, albeit repeated, and I had never been drawn to her Shapeshifter books or Frozen in Time, even though it won the Blue Peter Award. However, she is now producing series of books at a tremendous rate. And she is a marvellous speaker - incredibly entertaining. Apparently she used to be a tv comedy writer, and she certainly has a sense of humour, a love of playing with words and an attention to detail.

In the session I attended, Ali was talking about her new series for young children called SWITCH. These stories are based around twin boys who can adopt the powers of different insects. She stood in front of us dressed in purple with a black waistcoat embroidered with cobwebs and multifaceted purple earrings and ring (to replicate the fly's eyes!). Sounds a bit querky? Well, I wouldn't draw attention to her dress sense if it wasn't for the fact that later in the day I saw her in a completely different outfit. She'd been talking about a completely different series of books in her later seminar, so had dressed appropriately for that one too. Dedication? Branding? Passion for her product?! Whichever, she certainly got my vote for being plain good fun!

The other author who struck me this year, was quite different. Phil Earle has written a book called Being Billy (see my recommended reads). I doubt I would ever have picked this up (run-of-the-mill cover and nondescript title) if it wasn't for hearing him speak. He looked quite bashful and ill at ease sitting on the panel waiting to speak, but as soon as he had the opportunity to talk about his subject, he was off. And I felt I could have listened to him for hours. He used to be a care worker so has written the book from personal experience. The way he talked about the difficulties of working with these children - in what they did to him, but also in what had happened to them -was quite harrowing. But he had developed such compassion for these young people, and such a conviction that their lives could be turned around for the better, that he was truly inspiring.