Members' Biographies

  • Gordon Strathdee


    From an early age Gordon knew he was destined to be a story-teller. However, his initial efforts at writing as a young lad were foiled by his teacher’s pedantic insistence that writing involve correct punctuation, spelling and an ability to write at least vaguely legibly.  Fortunately, the cavalry arrived in the shape of computers armed with spell checkers. Inspired, Gordon penned a number of missives for an array of scientific journals, but papers on such scholarly subjects as 18q-syndrome and DNA methylation failed to generate widespread public acclaim.  However, inspiration struck again after the birth of his joint muses in the early 2000’s.  Nowadays, Gordon writes stories for young children up to young adults (or even old adults that still think they’re young). Most of his stories involve animals of one type or another; from dangerous wolves to loveable pigs; elusive whizzle birds to swashbuckling mice and most obviously of all, adorable cuddly slugs.


  • Julie Hedger

    I am an aspiring writer and illustrator of children’s stories. I live in County Durham in the North East of England, bordering the Pennines – it snows a lot, even in July.

    My stories range from those for young children (the ones that are easy to trip over) to those who can read for themselves (and talk back and tell you exactly what they think of your story). I like to write about funny things from ‘sprouts’ to ‘spiders’ (talking ones – spiders that is, not sprouts as that would be silly).

    I wish I could say that I’ve always loved writing stories, but I haven’t, so I can’t. I much preferred sums and went to study Mathematics at University. However, I have always loved drawing and I even won a Blue Peter badge once for my artwork. I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator when I grew up but somehow I became an engineer instead. My love of writing came after studying English at college, reading Harry Potter and enjoying picture books with my son and of course rereading to him the stories that I loved as a child – Roald Dahl books obviously!

  • Sheila Corbishley

    Sheila has been writing - or at least telling stories - since the last dinosaur died. She told stories to her brother and sister, to her six children and to the children at the primary schools where she taught. She remembers telling them during snowy lunchtimes to the whole school in the hall, with the dinner nannies standing round the walls listening just as hard as the children, while the cook, incensed, flew from the dining room yelling: "I said yous can come in NOW!"
    Sheila writes short stories for adults and longer stories for children. She has won several national short story competitions and has had stories published in Woman's Weekly magazine. Her main love is writing for children and she is delighted that 'Hippo Trouble' - her story for for 6-9 year olds - is being published in April 2017. She hopes it's a success because she's already written two more.


  • Judi Steen

    One of Judi’s earliest memories is of reading, when she should have been asleep - light nights were an opportunity to read, a time to revel in books.

    Her childhood memories feature libraries and bookshelves she’s loved; choosing books at school, the round library in Crossgates, Newcastle’s children’s library -tucked away behind the original central library, split level floors and cosy corners, perfect for children.

    After studying Environmental Science, Judi taught in first, primary and surprisingly, middle schools - which wasn’t as scary as expected, probably because her two sons were, by then, much taller than her.

    Whilst living in The Netherlands, Judi taught at the British Primary School, Amsterdam. The five nationalities in her class demonstrated that children everywhere love immersing themselves in stories and care deeply about the characters.

    After leaving full time teaching, Judi found herself unexpectedly taking a creative writing course. By the end of the first session, she realised that she had been writing for children for many years, as a teacher, but just hadn’t noticed.

    Judi now writes picture book texts and stories for readers up to around ten.

    Creative writing courses continue to be an important tool to explore and improve her writing and she attends many events at the amazing Seven Stories the National Centre for Children’s Books, in her home of Newcastle upon Tyne.

    A founder member of SSWAG, Judi continues to take part in, and organise, professional development seminars and workshops locally and travels to expert events as far afield as Edinburgh and London.


  • Julia Stafford

    Julia is a mum of two, a graphic designer and a writer and illustrator for children. All of these things allow her to be creative, require her to be a good researcher and entitle her to be very silly (especially the graphic design bit).

    Julia's work always involves some hard thinking, some head scratching, lots of scribbling and an attention to detail that delights both sensible clients and not so sensible children. She was long-listed (final 20) in the Greenhouse Funny Prize 2012 for her picture book 'Crazy Hair Day'. Julia's poem 'Tic Taco Toc' was chosen by Roger McGough for Waitrose's Year of Poetry in 2014. Her not-illustrated reworked fairy tale 'Trip T. Rap and the Group Chat Kids' was long-listed by The National Literacy Trust in 2017. Part of Elmer's Great North Parade, an art trail around the North East of England, Julia painted Allsorts Elmer and then, in a strange David McKee/Raymond Briggs mash-up, a patchwork Snow Dog! The sculptures raised £9,700.00 for St Oswald's Hospice.

    Julia loves to work with children and helped St Catherine's Primary in Newcastle upon Tyne paint their very own Elmer sculpture, named Unity, incorporating designs from the whole school. In 2018 she worked with Lord Blyton Primary School in South Shields on the South Tyneside Picture Books project producing two original stories, written and illustrated by Julia and the children. Both books were printed and circulated to local libraries and the five schools involved. At the end of 2019 Julia launched the Whirlwind Story-Making Workshop as part of Books on Tyne at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle upon Tyne. Aimed at reluctant readers but open to all, Julia worked on stories with eight children following an inspirational tour of the Lit & Phil Library by Kay Easson. When it's safe to do so, she would love to do more of this. In the meantime, she's been working on a new picture book about being hard of hearing, something that's close to her aid.

    Julia Stafford trades as Julia ...

  • Ellen Phethean

    Ellen Phethean grew up in SE London. She studied English and Theatre Studies at Lancaster university, gaining a BA and MA in Theatre Studies. She moved to Newcastle in 1978. She worked with Julia Darling, in The Poetry Virgins, producing Sauce, Bloodaxe Books 1994. They co-founded Diamond Twig, a north east women’s press:

    Ellen’s radio poem Witnessing Westgate Hill was broadcast on Stanza, BBC Radio 4 in 1997 and her verse play Journey with a Golden Lady, was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2000.

    She wrote Wall, Smokestack Books 2007, a teen novel in poems, when writer in residence with Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books. It won joint first prize in the Bishop Auckland Crossover Novel competition, 2004. Her collection of poetry, Breath, 2009 Flambard, was shortlisted for the London Fringe 1st Collection Award 2010. She co-wrote Cain and Abel with her son Fred Phethean, in Hip Hop style, for the Durham Mysteries Cycle, May 2010.

    She has a Creative Writing MA from Newcastle University. Her second collection ‘Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman’ 2014 Red Squirrel Press was a New Writing North Read Regional choice 2014. Her YA novel Ren and the Blue Hands, 2016, Red Squirrel Press, was long listed for the Times/Chicken House novel competition 2012. She teaches creative writing and runs workshops.

  • Pete Donald

    Pete Donald

    Pete when he was young and fresh faced.

    Pete Donald spends his time pushing a keyboard until a combination of inspiration, frustration and imagination creates stories.

    He has been writing children’s stories for a number of years, exercising his active imagination to produce unique and enjoyable children’s stories. He has been party to many writers groups including the Tynemouth Writers Club and is currently with the prestigious Swagbag Stories Writers and Artist Group (sswag). He has volunteered at Seven Stories (The National Home of Children’s Books) and the Peoples Theatre Newcastle as well as being a radio presenter at Rake Lane Radio (North Tyneside General Hospital). He has written plays for North Tyneside Youth Theatre, in conjunction with Monster Productions, and watched with enormous pride as they were performed during the Wallsend festival.

    Along with these avenues Peter also provides stories and plays for the local scout troop, for the cubs and beavers sections, to read and perform as he continues to treat his audience to his special brand of storytelling.

    His motto could be - "If it makes you smile, if it makes you think, if it makes you want to do more, then that’s a good place to start." Is that a motto?

  • Elizabeth Mary Lawson

    I love stories. I love stories in books and stories in films and I am fascinated by traditional stories. I am afraid that, when I was small, I used to read under the bed clothes with a torch and sometimes was found slumped over a book. I love the way a good story can transport me into another world while at the same time making me look at the real world in a different way. So the stories that I write myself always include an adventure and are often set in other times, or imaginary worlds.

    In 2010 I received a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North. Previous to that in 2008 I was featured during the first Chicken House competition on Times Online. I also won the prize for a novel set in Northumberland at the Morpeth Gathering in 2009 and in 2006 was commended in a national short story competition run by the WI.

    As well as writing I have a fistful of CRB checks from my voluntary work with children, which ranges from running clubs to doing physics demonstrations with the Institute of Physics, and teach heritage dance: which is a lot of fun.