Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Wirral Paperback of the Year 2015

Some twenty-something years ago, I was reading a book with one of my classes. It was called Granny Was a Buffer Girl by Berlie Doherty. As we reached the end of the story, one of the girls in the class squinted up at me, "Are you crying,Sir?" She said.

I wasn't the only one. the story moved me and it became one of my favourite books. So imagine my joy when I was asked to help host the Wirral Paperback of the Year at Wirral Grammar School for Girls and who should be on the longlist but Berlie Doherty with her latest chilling ghost story The Company of Ghosts!

My excitement was such that I even remembered to take my camera along. Here's me with Berlie and the wonderful Keren David. I got my copy of Granny Was A Buffer Girl signed too!

I'm not perfect, however, and forgot to charge it, so after two photgraphs, it died on me and I wasn't able to get a snap of me with Catherine Bruton and Nikki Sheehan.

The Wirral Paperback of the Year has a great format. In March, longlisted authors are invited to attend and talk to the assembled pupils of quite a few Wirral high schools. It's a lovely event where everyone gets excited about books, reading and writing. There are talks, Q&A, book-signings, tea, coffee, biscuits and everyone has a jolly time. Then everyone goes home all the better for the experience.

Later in the year, around June, after the children have read the books and voted, the winner is announced. But the authors aren't there.

It's great because there's never that sense of winners and losers. Just celebration.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Love Your Libraries

A school librarian told me recently that she spent most of her budget on getting authors or speakers in to promote reading. "Why buy hundreds of new books just to have them sit on the shelves untouched?" And so she carefully balances her finances between promotion and stock.

In an ideal world, she'd have the budget for both but we don't live in an ideal world.

If she'd said, "Nobody reads so I'm spending all my budget on encouraging readers, oh and I'm selling all my books to pay for it," I'd have thought she was crazy.

And yet that's what's happening in Liverpool. The council is trying to make Liverpool a City of Readers whilst closing 11 libraries.

If my librarian analogy isn't to your taste how about a company that creates demand and restricts supply at the same time? Is that an good businessmodel? Not good if your aim is to get as many people through your shop door as possible.

I think libraries are important because they started me reading again when I was a teenager. I wouldn't be a writer now if it weren't for libraries, that much is certain.

As a parent, I can remember the time when my children were toddlers. We weren'tpoverty-stricken  by any stretch of the imagination but neither were we wealthy. My wife was working purely to pay for childcare, keeping her job 'open' for when the children were older and finances became easier. My wages covered the mortgage and household bills. In that environment, there was no way we could have bought the number of picture books, board books and story books our children devoured as they grew up. Libraries helped our children develop imagination and intelligence.

As an author, I go into many libraries up and down the country. I've yet to see an empty one.

Authors Cathy Cassidy and Alan Gibbons have drawn up a petition to save the libraries ear-marked for closure. You can sign it by contacting Alan at Or you could write a letter to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson. 

I don't believe for a second that anyone at Liverpool Council really wants to close those libraries but we're asking them to find another way.

Monday, 29 September 2014

An Anniversary

It's been twelve months since I took the plunge as a full time writer. There have been some highlights seeing Wrath of the Lizard Lord published along with my other, shorter,books, Blood Cave, Macbeth and Death Road. I've visited schools the length and breadth of the country and enjoyed a few festivals too. In between times, I've enjoyed the freedom, flexibility and solitude that writing brings.

In some ways, I've treated the year as an experiment, balancing the books every quarter and weighing up whether a day job was required to keep us afloat. I have a family to support as well as a writing habit!

If you'd spoken to me just before Christmas, when I had a large number of outstanding invoices and was zooming up and down the motorways in foul weather, I'd have probably said the experiment wasn't working. In fact you might have even caught me checking out the situations vacant ads in the paper.

But, twelve months on, I'm pleased to announce that the experiment was a success! Mayhew Enterprises Financial Director (Aka, Mrs M) informs me that we have grown by 11% but that could be my waist size.

Of course, I don't make ALL my living from writing. About 40% comes from school visits and I do see them as two separate roles, albeit inseparably interlinked.

It's easy to be hard-nosed and business-like about it all and forget the fun of making up stories, the fun of meeting new people and catching up with writing friends (I'm looking at YOU SCBWI people!). 

So here's to another twelve months. Reset the clock, restart the experiment. You're only as good as your last book or school visit, you know!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Lizard Lord Unleashed

Today is the official launch day for the second Monster Odyssey book Wrath of the Lizard Lord. For those not in the know, it involves Prince Dakkar (a young Captain Nemo), Napoleon Boneparte, Mary Anning, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and the Battle of Waterloo. Oh, and dinosaurs.

I know, I know, technically, dinosaurs weren't lizards but as the book is set in 1815, technically dinosaurs weren't dinosaurs then. They didn't know what they were. Dragons perhaps.

I love the cover art by the super-talented Justin Goby Fields. If that cover doesn't grab your attention, then nothing will!

It's been great fun writing it, in fact, the next book Curse of the Ice Serpent is scheduled to come out in January, so not long to wait!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Trying Too Hard

I was on a school visit the other day, when a pupil asked me if I ever worry about running out of ideas.

"No!" was my response. "In fact, I have too many ideas and not enough time."

This is true but only to a certain extent. 

I remember watching a scene from Great Expectations. Miss Havisham has brought Pip to her crumbling mansion and sat him down in front of Estella and demands that they play. The scene always makes me cringe because it's obvious that play is pretty spontaneous and demanding someone play is a bit like forcing a laugh.


Ideas are a bit like that for me. They arrive all sparkly and exciting: a setting, a dilemma, a character but they aren't enough on their own and I spend a lot of time weaving ideas together, only to see them fall apart. It's a bit like knitting spaghetti. I'm trying too hard.

Another (better) analogy is Candy Gourlay's here: She describes each idea as a rabbit hole that she is staring at. She'll dive down one and explore it until she no longer wants to and then comes out and dives into another one. When she finds a rabbit hole she likes, she'll excavate it until it becomes a book. I think the 'trying too hard' here comes when you carry on excavating even though you've lost interest

I find the best ideas are the ones that don't go away. they keep speaking to you and developing and they lead to other ideas. I've got one of those nagging me now. I think I'll go and explore it...

How do you decide which story to plump for?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Blog That Time Forgot

It's been a while but I haven't been idle, I promise! Monster Odyssey Book 2, The Wrath of the Lizard Lord comes out at the beginning of June and I'm preparing for the onslaught. Much of the run-up to last Christmas was spent with me being offline and on task which was great.

I love this cover. It takes me back to my childhood fascination with dinosaurs, monsters that really roamed the Earth! Awesome. The book was really fun to write, too. I do believe in connecting with my inner eleven year old when I'm writing these stories. 

I watched At The Earth's Core and Warlords of Atlantis recently and they didn't stand the test of time for me. I can't remember how impressed I was with these films at the time. The first Doug McClure film The Land That Time Forgot stood up better and I suspect Michael Moorcock's involvement in the screenplay probably helped. I do remember going to the cinema to see that one!

I also used to enjoy reading comics about this chap:


But more about him another time!