UK and International School Specialists
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Cliff McNish
Cliff McNish

All About Cliff McNish

“McNish is one of our most talented thriller writers, with an ability to make your spine crawl and your heart pound with his stylish pared down prose.” – Amanda Craig, The Times

When Cliff McNish’s debut fantasy novel The Doomspell appeared The Bookseller immediately hailed him as ‘a great new voice in writing for children.’ The Doomspell Trilogy went on to become a huge international success, translated into 26 languages worldwide. He then turned his attention to the ghost story. The resulting Breathe was voted in May 2013 by The Schools Network of British Librarians not only as one of the top children’s novels of all time, but made the top 100 combined adult and children’s list in that category. His more recent humorous and heart-warming dog novel Going Home, about four dogs stuck in a rescue centre, is loved by children 7-12.

Cliff was born in Sunderland, a city in the north-east of England. At primary school his school reports were spectacularly average. According to teachers, he day-dreamed all the time. He also found it hard to concentrate – a trait he remembers well; it makes him particularly good during school visits at keeping the attention of even reluctant children and teenagers.

“I still remember being given C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew by my English teacher, Mrs Baldwin,’ he writes. “I recall lying in bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling and wishing with all my heart that I could be C. S. Lewis. But who was the one who introduced me to him and to so many other writers in my young life? My teacher. She inspired me at a time when I barely read anything at all. I’ve never forgotten the power of her personal example.”

Cliff McNish’s School Visits


Cliff prides himself on the great feedback he receives from primary and secondary schools. He works with KS2 up to sixth formers, but is happy to do a KS1 class if you wish.

‘The whole year have had follow up lessons in story construction, which have been very effective with good outcomes. Quite frankly, we all enjoyed the day so much. You were wonderful.’ Head of English, Guilsborough School, Northampton.

‘You visited our school recently and we loved it … we were hoping you might be interested in coming again.’ Librarian, South Hampstead Junior School.

Author Talks – up to 60 minutes

Cliff loves talking to students about his writing life – how he started out, the influence of his daughter on his ideas, as well as the ups and downs of a career in fiction. He can command an audience of any size and there’s ample time for Q&A plus those burning questions students always have. Cliff pitches his talk to suit the age of his audience. He’ll dig down into deep themes of writing with teenagers, but he’s equally happy to engage with younger pupils on a lighter level. His funny and heart-warming talk/show about his time fostering dogs for Battersea Dog’s Home is hugely successful with children aged 7-11.

Author workshops

Cliff likes nothing more than helping students improve their writing skills. He performs a number of normally hour-long workshops with smaller groups of pupils:

1. How to craft a story

The 5 key steps to writing compelling stories. A simple and powerful structure for story writing any student can follow and use.

2. Creating great characters

What it is that makes us love or hate characters? We explore the secret of how to craft truly memorable characters readers will deeply root for or against.

3. Ghost stories

We delve into the concept of the ghost in fiction, and each student creates his or her own personal ghost story.

4. Fantasy Writing

We develop a fantasy world that is original and convincing, using ideas solely from the students themselves and their interaction. This is a vibrant session in what it takes to make a fantasy world real and compelling.

5. Crafting a thriller

Students often struggle to maintain story tension. We study how to establish suspense, and then sustain it across a scene and an overall story arc.

6. Humour

What makes us smile? We explore ways to come up with comic characters and genuinely funny plots. Always hugely enjoyable for students.

7. The Four Most Important Stories

We use classic and contemporary examples to explore the four main repeated thematic archetypes in fiction, and how to use them to create powerful stories of your own. Sounds dry, but actually works fantastically well with year 5 upwards.

8. Animal stories (for students, years 3-7)

Children love animals. Based around my novel GOING HOME, this is a highly interactive session where students create their own animal story. Works equally well as a talk with imaginative exercises or as a full workshop.

9. Tell me a picture (for younger students, Reception to Year 3)

Cliff uses characters and pictures to stimulate the visual imaginations of the children. They go on to draw their own images, which become the basis for a simple exercise in expressive descriptive writing.

Cliff has worked with younger and older students over long stretches of time as a creative mentor. In addition to his standard talks and workshops, he’s happy to put together a bespoke programme if you have special needs.


‘A big thank you for working with the class of year 7’s on creative writing skills last week. They have come up with some wonderful pieces of work since your visit.’ – Librarian, Downsend School, Leatherhead.


‘The children loved every moment of it.’ – Head of English, St. Michael’s Primary School, Highgate.

‘A big thank you for working with the class of year 7’s on creative writing skills last week. They have come up with some wonderful pieces of work since your visit.’ Librarian, Downsend School, Leatherhead.


‘Fantastic, inspirational. Great way to teach story writing.’ – CDC Teaching Programme, Kent County Council.

Cliff’s Books

Cliff has written innumerable award-winning novels for children and teenagers. Here are just a few of the more well-known:

The Doomspell



In a blaze of light, rush of wind and scrabble of claws, Rachel and Eric are ripped through the wall and hurtled on to another world. Like thousands of other children before them, they have been snatched away by the Witch. Cliff’s classic magical fantasy, the first part of a trilogy published in 26 languages. Suitable for eight year-olds upward.

‘High fantasy, richly imagined and refreshingly well-written — an excellent novel.’ – The Sunday Times

‘Gripping, racy, children have been fighting to borrow’; – The Guardian



Jack is used to danger. His asthma has nearly killed him more than once. But his new homehas a danger he’s never known before – the spirits of the dead. They can’t breathe, but in Jack’s house they chase, hide and scream. Only Jack can see them. Only he can hear them. And only he can learn their secrets in time to save himself… and his mother.

‘This ghost story (multiple-award winning in both the UK and the USA) was voted by British librarians in 2013 as one of the top one hundred novels all time for both children’s and adults. Suitable for ten year-olds upward. ‘Such is McNish’s skill that when you read of the young hero Jack’ asthma attacks, you’ll find yourown breathing feels constricted. He evokes the same empathy when dealing with the ghosts whohaunt Jack, taking us into the realms of inventiveness that are his trademark. Breathtaking.’; –The Guardian

‘Breathe is a brilliantly inventive ghost story, compellingly written. It is spine-chilling, disturbing and truly frightening. A real page turner’; – Booktrust


Going Home


At the Happy Paws Rescue Centre every pet dreams of one thing: going home. But Ralph, Mitch, Bessie and Fred are the no-hopers: dogs so difficult or troublesome they aren’t expected to ever get a new home. Ralph’s face is scarred. Bessie can’t stand to be touched. Mitch can’t stop chasing cats and Fred… has just given up. Who’d want to adopt any of them instead of a cute little puppy?

‘Dog books can easily be formulaic and twee, but Going Home is a fresh ‘buddy movie’ told with smart repartee’ – Nicolette Jones, Sunday Times

‘By turns funny and touching, this story is a must for all dog lovers’ – BookTrust

‘The depiction of the dedicated staff and animals, whose story he humanises to a brilliant degree, is nothing short of masterly. A lovely story, lovingly told and realised’ – Books Monthly

To Make a Booking

To make an enquiry about Cliff, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at