Monday, 7 December 2009

How Cool Is This?

Being a veteran of one school visit and not having a book to sell, my mind turned to the prospect of turning up at schools when I do have a book to sell but some of the darlings mightn't have the readies for a book.

A book plate to stick in the front of a book was one idea. But I also liked the idea of a stamp.

Who hasn't wanted to work in a post office and slam down one of those important, chunky-looking stampers?

Admit it. The first time they passed your library books through a barcode reader and it gave off a pathetic beep, you felt the slight sag of disappointment. What happened to the 'Kerchunk!' of the librarian's date stamp?

The truth is, we all love a stamp. So I indulged myself. All my children now carry the Mortlock brand...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Winchester Wonderland

The SCBWI Winchester Weekend Conference. Ah! What a treat. I met the charming and very funny Mr Philip Ardagh...

He's also very tall. Thanks to Kathy who is as short as I and had to stand on fifteen milk crates to get this perspective.

But then he tried to drive me into the ground with one blow of his mighty fist. Philip's after dinner speech was very illuminating and left us with a lot to ponder on... not least the wisdom of reading to the public from one's own book.
And then I met up with the lovely Karen Ball, ace writer and all-round good egg. I had spoken to Karen on the phone but not met her so it was great to catch up.

As well as the socialising, there were lots of opportunities to sharpen the writing craft, meet real authors (not imaginary ones) and get books signed (which is fast becoming something of a fetish). Cliff McNish's session on story archetypes particularly set me thinking about my current draft of Book 2!

But I have a confession... during that weekend I fell in love. It was during a workshop about school visits. Our eyes just met across the room, over a sea of heads...

I never managed to get to see Woofy close-up, his minders hustled him away before I had chance but what an inspiration. My life has changed.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

My First Author Visit!

Last Friday found me visiting Birkenhead High School Academy, a high school for girls in Birkenhead. My first author visit!

I'd been approached by their librarian Marilyn Hogan who had organised a literary festival within the school. A whole week of events under the banner of "Reading Between The Lines."

The pupils were very welcoming and polite. They asked lots of questions and took to my workshop enthusiastically.

I decided to look at the ballads that punctuate every chapter. Mortlock was partly inspired by The Twa Corbies, so I got the pupils to look at two variants of the ballad. I showed them the trailer and read an extract of the book.

At one point the projector was misbehaving, leaving me defenceless in front of 25 year eight pupils. While the technician wrestled with the machinery, I zipped round them asking names and favourite books. Fortunately, I didn't have to resort to a game of any description to keep them occupied but I guess I could have done.

The aim of the workshop was to create some kind of performance based on different (but all very gory) ballads that I had distributed. We had tableaux, readings of key lines, mimes of the events of the ballads. It was great fun. I only wish I'd had a few books to sell!

I really enjoyed my visit to Birkenhead High. It reminded me of all the reasons I went into teaching twenty years ago. I think I'll go back again. If they'll have me!

But now I'm looking forward to the weekend and the SCBWI conference at Winchester. Can't wait!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Under Cover...

First I have to thank everyone who voted for Mortlock in Mr Ripley's Bookcover Wars. It was so exciting rallying the troops, watching The Unravellers charge into the lead and then seeing my vote count creep up! My kids were texting friends until their fingers bled! They refused to go to bed! Number three son wanted to stay up until 6am to see if we had won! So a bit of fun but quite humbling again the way all my friends near home and on Facebook, abroad and on Twitter all joined to bring Mortlock to the finish line first. Just brilliant.

Also very interesting, on a small scale, to note the power of networking or maybe internetworking?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Fabulous Return of Five Things What Are Good!

The nights are drawing in, the half-term holiday drawing to a close and for other reasons I find myself on the glum side.


We pick our selves up and think of five things that are good!

1) The Lion King. This week we were lucky enough to go to The Lyceum in London to see it. I've always loved old LK and the story is soooo Shakespearean and good. The kids loved it too and at times I wasn't sure which was best, watching them or the show!

2) Chessington World of Anticipation, sorry Adventure! Queue for 45 minutes to experience 2 minutes of sheer terror/ nausea/ paranoia and that was just the Merry-go-Round (I am such a wuss when it comes to scary rides).

3) Deals with Russian Publishers! Whilst in the aquarium at Chessington, surrounded by clown fish and conger eels, I receive a call from my wonderful agent telling me that Mortlock has been sold to the Russian Olma Media Group. Incredible. Bewildering. Fantastic! I wonder if I'll ever get to go over there?

4) Hallowe'en. I always love Hallowe'en. We duck for apples, carve out a pumpkin (We used to carve out turnip lanterns, tough!) and generally get a bit spooky.

5) Meeting up with friends. We've been lucky enough to impose on the hospitality of two old friends this week, eating and drinking them out of house and home! We also caught up with the mighty Sarwat Chadda for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Brilliant.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Cover Story

Thanks to everyone who voted for my book cover in Mr Ripley's Book Wars. It was an interesting exercise in galvanising support and a humbling experience when so many people voted for me! Some exciting twists and turns too as Tommy Donbavand's Scream Street cover inched into the lead and I had to send out a plea for help! (I would have voted for Tommy's if my book hadn't been up there!)

The first draft of Book Two (The Demon Collector) is complete and now comes the difficult task of leaving it for as long as possible before rereading and (inevitably) rewriting it. I almost prefer the revision process to the original writing process, having material to shift around and redraft seems so much easier. I'm quite looking forward to that but I have to hold off. Launching straight into it will mean that it's still too fresh in my mind. A bit of distance is what's needed.

I'll start thinking about Book 3 while I'm waiting!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

I Ain't Superstitious...

Now I'm not a superstitious kind of chap really. I only count Magpies because of some strange OCD that overcomes me every now and then. And I certainly don't address single Magpies verbally so that any ill-fortune does wing itself my way. Honest!

Nor do I read horoscopes obsessively, looking for any grain of encouragement, although apparently Librans are always fascinated by their horoscopes (and themselves) and Libra cups, signs, books are always first to sell out. Russell Grant tells me that 2009 is an ideal year to indulge in creative pastimes. He said that if I wrote a book I would experience 'wild success.'

Rabbit's feet, horseshoes and four leaf clover mean nothing to me (although, come to think of it, I do have quite a clover collection pressed between the pages of various thick books around the house).

I remember a great night in a pub in a village in County Cork, Ireland. The previous weekend, I'd been to The Grand national at Aintree racecource (not too far from me). I mentioned to someone that I'd bet on every race and won (not big money, a couple of quid each time). I didn't have to buy a pint again that evening as virtually everyone in the pub bought me one 'for luck.'

Someone once told me that lucky people are those who say 'yes' to opportunities that come their way and I think I subscribe to that but I wonder if sometimes you have to put yourself in the way of those chances. I've written for years but once I decided to go for publication, I set about finding out the 'hows', 'whos' and 'wheres.' And it worked.

And now I'm working towards the 'hows, whos and wheres' of selling the book...touch wood...

Are you superstitious?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Darren Shan Tries to Strangle The Opposition!

It all started out so nicely. Mr Shan was signing books at our local Borders store so I thought, "Where's the harm in taking a selection of kids down to get their books signed?"

You have to wait a while to meet Darren Shan. He's very popular. My own theory is that part of his success (apart from writing cracking horror) is that he's so approachable and takes time with every punter who comes up with a book (or in my son's case eight books) to sign. Basically he's an all-round good guy.
So imagine my horror at his reaction when I told him about Mortlock...

I just about escaped with my life!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A Few Cuts Here and There

A brief post... I am sorely wounded and may never recover...
Friends of mine on Facebook will know that I ended up seeing a specialist about a small bump or nodule on my forehead. I was quite taken aback at his enthusiasm for removing it. Which he did, duly stitching me up and sending me on my way, saying I was a brave soldier!

So all week I've had people peering at me and saying:

1) Nothing because they're too polite and grown up.


2) "What happened to your head Mister?" because they're not grown up and need to know the truth.

My stock reply was that I was attacked by a woodpecker. Most folks would grin, appreciate the joke and move on. Apart from one (grown up) person who actually said: "It always happens to you doesn't it?" As if I'm beset by woodland creatures every day. Squirrels pelting me with acorns, hedgehogs stabbing me with pointed spine, a kind of reverse Snow White in which I have to bear the brunt of forestry fulmination!

Anyway the upshot is that the stitches come out tomorrow, it's nothing life-threatening and so things are good.

Another form of surgery looms large soon. My writing of Book 2 moves on apace and I'm into the exciting bit. Well, it's all exciting but I'm onto the bit where you can see the finish line, it's almost complete! I've nearly done it... and then I can rip it up and start again (which I love actually).

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Greenhouse Author

I was asked recently where I write and my response was that I am a guerrilla writer, moving around, writing when I can, where I can.
I can be quite fussy about my writing conditions and until recently, thought of myself as the writing equivalent of the Princess and the Pea but I think I've narrowed them down to:

1) Warmth
2) Freedom from disturbance

I do have a small room to write in but when it gets cold, I just can't concentrate. A little electric fire solves that problem, turning it into a sauna in minutes.

Sometimes writing in the house isn't productive, especially with family about making unreasonable requests for food, affection, general nurturing.

I once couldn't concentrate because the do
g was looking at me. I swear she was.
Giving me that, 'we haven't been for a walk yet' look.

Today, because the weather proved so shiny and bright, I dug-in where any author with the Greenhouse Agency would... the greenhouse! You can just see my little netbook on my lap.

Where do you write?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Weddings and Launches

I haven't really passed comment on the amazing trailer that the marvellously clever Adrian at Bloomsbury has created for Mortlock. Or the wonderful cover. These things thrill me and bewilder me in equal measure. Just brilliant.

It was also the weekend of the Northern launch of The boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 and as I couldn't get to the London one, I decided to trundle down to Eccleshall Library in darkest Staffordshire and get the lovely Harriet Goodwin to sign my copy. Of course I forgot my camera, as usual.

There were crowds of people there and they sold out of books. Fortunately, I had remembered to buy one before hand. As I stood in the queue, I felt a bit odd really. One: because I hadn't warned Harriet that I was coming down to see her and we hadn't actually met before. Two: because I was watching the whole thing and thinking, "this'll be me next year!"

The Greenhouse Agency has quite a close family feel to it and so I wasn't surprised to be greeted like a long-lost friend. I was so glad I took myself down there!

The next leg of my journey took me South West a bit to a village in Worcestershire where I was playing at a wedding.

As we played, I watched the bride settle herself on a bale of straw. She in turn watched the dancers. So content, so happy. A perfect day and it started me thinking about Harriet's launch and book launches in general.

Are they like weddings? or christenings? What kind of celebration are they? Goodwife reckoned they're more akin to weddings and the author is the father of the bride, giving away his prized possession. What d'you reckon?

Sunday, 6 September 2009

We All Need A Monster!

Loch Ness has two 'Official Monster Centres.' One is very slick and has audio visual displays that you walk around, but leaves you in no doubt that there is no Loch Ness Monster, there never was and there couldn't possibly be. Apparently, the bottom of the loch is as deep as the sea in some parts but because of the peaty, acidic water, it is dark and supports little life. Interesting geology and natural history, fascinating place.

But no monster. The kids enjoyed it but I'm not sure they needed this message hammering home quite so firmly.

The other centre is perhaps a little less polished. A narrow corridor lined with display boards leads you to a small cinema that screens a film about the history of the Loch and the various monster sightings. You leave the place with the sense that maybe, just maybe, a monster may exist.

I loved both exhibitions for different reasons but I came away thinking that we all need a monster of some kind. Rationality is all very well and good but it doesn't allow us to plumb the darker depths of our own subconscious. The stories, myths and legends we are told as children feed our imagination and build our creativity.

There have been earlier sightings of the monster but apparently 1933 saw a wave of 'monster-mania.' One of the most famous photographs was the surgeons photo:

Personally, I don't need photographic evidence because I'm a firm believer in the importance of myths, fairy tales, Father Christmas, tooth fairies, gnomes, dwarves etc... Our world would be a duller place without them.

Besides, a strange thing happened whilst we viewed the Loch from our cottage. I'm not saying it was the monster... but we saw something... something that needed explanation... My daughter was fortunate to have her camera with her so we can share this mysterious sighting...

Monday, 31 August 2009

Dark Deeds

I'm back from my holidays in Scotland. A whole week on the banks of Loch Ness and an interesting place it was too.

Aside from the good food and ale that was available across the land (the Scots don't live on deep-fried Mars bars and Irn Bru, although I'm rather partial to the latter), the scenery was incredible. Craggy lochs over-looked by dizzying mountains, ruined castles and towering pines.

A backdrop to some dark deeds and shocking massacres. We found ourselves at Culloden Moor, the scene of the last stand of the Jacobite Clans against government forces. The fierce, feared highlanders employed medieval tactics against a highly trained, modern army and lost. Badly. I wandered the battlefield with my satellite-controlled commentary unit, headphones warming my ears. Flags denote the battle lines and I was struck by the closeness of the enemies but also thinking that something of the atmosphere of the place had been lost.

Until I came to the Well of the Dead.

A small scrubby hollow in the middle of the moor, a spring and little else.

Here, the highlanders became bogged down, quite literally in the moss and mire. The bodies piled four deep as the older clansmen fought to the death, shielding the younger sons who had accompanied them on the adventure.

All those shared moments and family ties: arguments, feuds, laughter, dancing, drinking, hangovers, weddings, births and bereavements all culminating in a bloody ten minutes in which four hundred died by shot and bayonet.

And in that massacre lay the roots of much greater slaughter. Apparently, after Culloden, the redcoats adopted and adapted the Highland Charge, only with fixed bayonets. It became feared across Europe and beyond.

Until the machine guns of the Somme and Paschendale halted it in its stride.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

It's Only Good Manners to Ask

So, having been snuck up on by my own presence on the Bloomsbury site, I decided to put myself about a bit. Go and see some local book store managers. I did this too because I needed to complete an author questionnaire for my publishers and one of the questions went as follows:

Are there any retail outlets in your locality willing to display the book?

Well. It's only good manners to ask. This is what I have discovered from this experience:
  1. Bookstore managers will give you the time of day.
  2. They only have one head and do not devour debut children's authors for breakfast, dinner or tea.
  3. The word 'Bloomsbury' has a magical effect on them, making them sit up and smile excitedly.
  4. It is very strange telling a bookstore manager the name of your book, them typing it into their computer and saying, "You'll be Jon Mayhew, then..."
  5. I underestimate my ability to present myself as a rational and intelligent human being with not a trace of weirdness.
This all very encouraging.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Why I Flinched

Talk about talking your eye off the ball! I've been so wrapped up in the finer points of Mortlock and whether line 14 on page 175 needs an indetation and writing book 2 that this one passed me by and someone else pointed it out to me!

Have a look here.

I was rather impressed to say the least! But it did make me flinch too and I'll tell you why...

There will be a point at which Mortlock will be on shelves in bookshops across the country, and other countries besides. And I won't be there to sell it personally.

When I pitched Mortlock to editors or agents before meeting Sarah Davies last year, I was there, smiling, being nice and not weird (honest).

If I could, next April, I would be standing in every bookshop in every town all over the country, smiling, being nice and not weird (really). Selling my book.

But I can't. I'll try my level best to be in as many bookshops in as many places as possible but I can't be omnipresent. And so Mortlock has to sell itself. Well almost (and this is why I flinched).
Because it really brought home the truth in the fact that, yes writing is part of the job, here, and what fun it is. But promotion and awareness of markets, of what's going on with your work and grabbing opportunities when they arise are all part of it too.

So here we go for a bit of gratuitous self-promotion:

Go here and search for Mortlock. I'm sure it'll come up on some stats somewhere and make an impression.

And I'll try not to flinch again. Funny word that... flinch.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Website Envy

Lots of things have been going with Mortlock on behind the scenes but if I told you then I'd have to kill you, as the saying goes. All hush hush. Suffice to say that, at the moment the word excited does not cover the range of emotions that accompany opening e-mails and ordinary envelopes at the moment!

And I've been preoccupied so I missed the arrival of fellow Greenhouse author Harriet Goodwin's new website. Harriet was in the Greenhouse at the start having been scooped up from the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Anthology competition.

I love the new website. I love the green tones (a welcome change from the black that accompanies many websites- mine included!). It just feels so professional and established. I want one like that!

Harriet's book The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 sounds right up my street, "Finn Oliver will never accept his father’s death, but he finds a few minutes of forgetting as he joy-rides over the moors in the beat-up family car. Then the accident happens – and Finn hurtles through the wafer-thin divide between the living and the dead. As he falls, he collides with a spirit-girl, Jessie Sherratt, who is on her way up to the surface to visit the local graveyard.

Together, Finn and Jessie must save the Underworld from destruction by releasing the ancient Firepearl from its elemental enchantments at the centre of the Earth. But can they reach it before their evil adversary gets there first…and is the Firepearl quite what it seems?"

It's out September 7th and you can preorder it here.

On a different note altogether Tracy has awarded me a Superior Scribbler Award which I was rather chuffed with to be honest, geiven my rubbish blogging track record recently! Thanks Tracy!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Yeep, yeeeep, YeeeeeeEpp.

These are the sounds I make when going through my manuscript page by page on the phone with a copy editor.

She was very nice.


Tuesday, 28 July 2009


The trouble with Harry is, he's always in the background.
Hovering on his Nimbus 2000.
"You're writing a book?" They say. "The next Harry Potter?"

I remember resisting the urge (only just)
to rip someone's head off when they said,
"We should write a children's book, like Harry Potter, can't be that hard can it?"
The respectable way to dream of making a fortune rather
than doing the lottery
or a good old honest flutter on the nags.
There he is... on his Nimbus... just out of reach...

He's always there, hovering.
Just in the corners of people's imagination.
A"hint of Harry."
Can't define it or pin it down.
Maybe it's me but he's there... hovering.

Toto scurries back to his kennel.
Harry's still there.
Lyra to Oxford,
Artemis Fowl to his Manor.
But Harry hovers... on his Nimbus...2000.

Sorry for the doggrel everyone. I'm not 'having a go. I've always enjoyed Harry Potter and admired JK Rowling's success. I've just been to see Half Blood Prince which I loved. I enjoyed the book too but it left me musing how much of an 'elephant in the room' old Harry is whenever children's writing is mentioned. What d'you think?

Sunday, 12 July 2009


I should be blogging more often. There's nothing worse than a neglected Blog.

I'm forging ahead with Book 2 which is taking shape nicely. Mortlock kind of grew organically then was taken by the scruff on a number of occasions and given a good shaking. Book 2 is being written to a deadline.

There's a qualitative difference between writing a book in the hope it might one day be published and writing a book that someone likes the sound of and will have a first peek early next year, thank you very much.

The difference is the phrase 'might one day.' Within those words is hidden the luxury of time. Time to think, to change your mind, time to make mistakes and start over again.

Don't think for one moment that I'm courting any sympathy here cos I'm not. It's just a difference I've observed. So I've been more precise with this one. It's mapped out in a way that Mortlock never was. I have copious notes on characters, societies, buildings, devices, things that might never make it into the book but I know they are there. I sent this rationale to my editor along with the synopsis and she almost wanted to publish the rationale too. So it was detailed.

The old adage in teaching (and elsewhere I suppose) is fail to plan, plan to fail. This doesn't hold true with writing I believe. Some writers let their work grow as they write, I've done that before and it's worked but with the luxury of time. Maybe I'll try that next time!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Thankyou to Everyone!

The money has been collected and counted. My brother and I raised £2553.20 in the end. So thankyou to everyone who donated and especially to my cousin Angela (who I know reads this blog). She set to on fund raising with military precision and determination, rallying the large and sprawling family to which I belong.

Just to put the amount in context, £1ooo covers the cost of a hospice night nurse for two weeks. He or she will provide vital care and support for many terminally ill patients and their families during that time.

I'm really proud to have run for Help the Hospices and proud of everyone who gave so generously in these financially tight times.

You are stars!
And just being cheeky, our Just Giving site is active for another couple of weeks I suspect, so if you've just read this and felt a pang of regret at not donating at the time... you still can!
Writing news?
Contracts have been signed (after lengthy negotiations... my agent is wonderful!) and work recommences on Book2... I'm off to write. I confess to having a fuzzy head today after drinking champagne and eating chocolate cake with the lovely Smailes clan to celebrate!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Writing Holiday

I'm waiting again... all part of the job and I'm not complaining (honest). Folks at Bloomsbury could never be described as slow!

Apparently, the next stage of this whole process is the Copyeditor. It fascinates me, this world of publishing and each step brings something new for me to marvel at. This poor woman has to plough through my work looking at grammar, spelling all the technical stuff and putting it into a format that is more 'book-like.' All very exciting! Someone else is looking at my outline for Book 2 so I'm at a bit of a pause.

So I'm... reading! There's FE Higgins and 'The Eyeball Collector' which I enjoyed immensely. And now I'm reading 'Season of Secrets' by Sally Nicholls. I'm bracing myself...I think it's going to be a tear-jerker.

And a writer never stops working so my thoughts have been turning to ideas for Book 3 and ways to promote Mortlock. never too early to start planning...

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For...

The Monkey's Paw by WW Jacobs is one of my favourite short stories. Musing the other day, it dawned on me that this tale sparked me into writing children's novels. And supernatural ones at that! It has seeped into popular culture, even the Simpsons, all the way from 1902 and, although the language can be difficult, kids in my classes used to love to hear it.

It's one of those 'be careful what you wish for' stories and provoked all manner of lively debates, not to mention some excellent stories by the pupils.

I love the fact that, in the story, all the horror is hinted at. Everything is left to the reader's imagination. we never see mangled corpses rising from graves. We never learn what the last owner of the paw, Sergeant Major Morris wished for. When he is asked if he has made three wishes, he shivers and says, 'I have.'

The tension builds beautifully and what Mr White, the main protagonist, has to wish for in the end is truly tragic and horrific.

Speaking of being careful what you wish for, I've now had back the second edited manuscript of Mortlock. It needs a few (well two actually) tweaks. I often hear writers bemoan the revision process but I have to confess, I quite enjoy it. It never ceases to amaze me how a few changes, rearranging a paragraph, modifying a sentence, can transform a scene and take your work to another level. It's brilliant!

But I haven't been stuck inside all of this sunny, shiny weekend. The chicks hatched about three weeks ago are getting feisty and adventurous so we moved them out into a nursery run in the garden.

And today I'm going to a SCBWI crit group in Chester which, if I remember my camera, I will tell you all about next time!
But for now, here's some music for you! It's called the Teetotaller, which I'm not.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Midnight Dance

Danse Macabre has to be on my playlist for when I write. This film by award winning animator John McCloskey is stunning. What more can I say?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Hindsight is a Great Thing

My first Blog post on this blogsite was exactly two years ago today.

Has much changed???


I read through those early posts trying to find myself in them but it seems like another person. So much has happened. Some of it quite sad but some amazingly uplifting and validating.

Hindsight is a great thing, they say and I agree. Hindsight is great, it's brilliant!

I look with hindsight at the post about Cornerstones and give a little shiver, look where it's brought me.

I look with hindsight at the post about the first SCBWI Winchester conference when, inspired by David Almond's keynote speech, I realised that one day I would be a published author and smile.

I look with hindsight at the post about joining the Greenhouse Agency and grin. The right decision.

And now I look at my e-mail inbox, with messages from Bloomsbury discussing my latest revisions to Mortlock.

Mortlock, the book I started two and a half years ago. Stuck a few samples online to see if anyone could give me a few tips or pointers about improving it! My first post says, "teaching and writing. Both require endless optimism!"

Vesper commented that my blog 'voice' seems more confident. She's right. The last two years have changed me, there's no denying it and so the Blog has to change too. I can't be Writing in a Vacuum anymore, because I'm not. I wasn't the moment I started the Blog, really because you guys are so supportive. It can't be a 'wannabe' blog anymore.

But it does raise a valid point. What do we read blogs for? I suspect that we like the connection we make with others and the glimpse of their lives it affords us. We don't want to be sold something everytime we visit, that's why corporate blogs are usually so dull.

Oh and the picture at the top is just a random one of Highgate, for gothic, Victorian creepiness you understand!
Why do you read blogs?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Britain's Got Lovely Weather!

It's been a glorious week here in the UK, well, it has on the sunny Wirral Peninsula (we have our own little micro-climate thanks to the Welsh mountains). So what have I been up to? I hear you ask...

Earlier in the week we went as a family to Knowsley Safari Park. This is a wonderful place to go if you like having your car vandalized by baboons! And hey! Who doesn't?

Then on Thursday, I went to the launch of Wordscapes. This is an anthology of short stories that won or were runner-up in the Cheshire Prize for Literature. If you recall, I was a runner-up, so off I went.

The lovely jan from Jan's Writing Journal was there too and I finally got to meet her!

And the High Sherrif of Cheshire was there (not like the Sherrif of Nottingham at all... I've heard bad things about him!) and gave me a free copy of the book!

Oh and here's the actual anthology, I think ultimately it'll be available from Chester Academic Press and Amazon, I'll keep you posted...

Finally I've been revising and rewriting the last quarter of Mortlock. My super editor at Bloomsbury had described it as a 'light edit' but I ended up writing an extra 14,000 words. So cue the sound of grinding gears as I slam into reverse and go back, hacking, slicing, nipping and tucking. The resultant (I'll not say finished or final) MS is a bit lighter than it was but I'm pleased with it... for now.

But d'you know what? I really enjoyed it! Sitting in the sun with my little net book tapping away, I could do this for a living, y'know!

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Those of you who know me will be aware of the chickens I keep at the bottom of my garden. I can't claim to be any great nurturer of flower, fish or fowl but I do like life to surround me.

Since the arrival of Sexy Sam last year, we reckoned that the eggs would probably be fertilized and so we slipped a few under a broody bantam. The process is amazing. for three or four weeks, the hen barely moves, barely eats or drinks. It generates huge amounts of heat for such a small bird. It rolls the eggs around to ensure they keep warm throughout. Inside each egg an embryo grows into a chick.

After three to four weeks, the chick pecks and wriggles and forces its way through the solid shell to the outside world. It's a struggle and there are no guarantees at the end of it.

It's a slow, precarious process. Miraculous and natural.

I think most things worth having take time to grow and come to fruition. As writers we spend so much time waiting for decisions, eager for the chance to move on t the next stage.

Each advance (no pun intended) brings you back to where you started. You finish your manuscript after many months or even years of graft and send it out. If you are lucky you get some constructive criticism back. You revise your work and send it out. You get your agent who suggests some revisions. You revise your work. It gets sent out. You get your book deal. Your editor suggests some revisions before it is published...

But each revision is a tap at the shell. Something cracking the barriers. Something breaking out into the big, wide world.

Keep your dream safe and warm. Nuture it.

Hatch it.

Actually, what I wanted to say was, "Look at these keeeyoot wickle chicky-wickies, aren't they all fluffy and wuverwy?"
but that would have been unseemly for a thoughtful chap like myself.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A weekend and a half!

I've been a rubbish blogger recently. I apologise. But things have been going on!

Last weekend I finally got down to London to meet the lovely Ele Fountain, my editor from Bloomsbury. They fed me pasta and chocolate ice cream, what a joy! Oh and we talked about Mortlock and went back to the office and met some of the team who were lovely too. Being a total mollusc when it comes to personal organisation, I forgot to take my camera! Ho hum.

Then it was on to the launch party for The Devils Kiss. Such a brilliant event, children in fancy dress, crusader re-enactments, sword fights, book signings and booze! It was a great chance to meet up with everyone.

The only pic I managed to get was of Stevyn Colgan and I looking intelligent... hmmm.

Then after that I zoomed up to Pendrell Hall for the SCBWI writer's retreat. Loads done, brilliant but lots more to go.

Time for a blog break methinks...revisions galore!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Writer's Weaknesses # 1: Imagination.

There are many blogs that will tell you the strengths a writer needs so I decided, being contrary, to consider the weaknesses a writer may have.

Imagination was my first thought. Writing for children compels you to delve back into your own experience when young. A strong memory for me is watching Hammer Horror films late on a Friday night.

There's a theory that with any performance, the audience enters into a contract with the actors. They suspend their disbelief. My problem was that I kept to every word of that contract, even the small print. I still do.

Having watched the film, I then had to run (I had to run, believe me) a full 300 yards from my friend's front door to my own. Sometimes, my father, knowing what I had been watching would lay in wait and jump out, frightening the living daylights out of me.

Too much imagination, see. I still find it hard to watch horror or suspense films. My mind works on each scene all night. If they made a film of Mortlock, I probably wouldn't be able to watch it.
I've often thought those T-shirts with 'No Fear' written on them should be rebranded: 'No Imagination.' There was a phase in my life when I loved mountain-biking but they didn't call me 'Mr squeaky brakes' for nothing. You could hear me a mile away wearing the rims off my wheels as I squealed down hairpin single track imagining every possible break and contusion lurking in the rocks and ruts.
It's the same quality that leads us to submit work to agents and publishers. All writers are, by definition I suppose, total fantasists.
But some fantasies are worth chasing...

Monday, 27 April 2009

A Bit Of A Marathon...

When I was a youngish kind of boy, there was a playground craze of giving each other a 'dead leg.' This was achieved by simply whacking one's knee sharply against a friend's thigh. The resultant pain was numbing and lasted for an age afterwards.

At the moment, I have two 'dead legs,' not to mention dead hips, shoulders and ankles. I am not quite a 'dead body' yet though!

Yesterday's London Marathon was a treat, absolute hell, a joy and a nightmare all in one. That's probably what makes it so special.

35,000 runners each with a story that brought them there. Charity vests of all shapes, colours and sizes. Messages in memory of relatives lost to every kind of human fragility. And yet all those strong people weaving their memories, hopes and ambitions around the streets of London. Amazing too, the thousands of people who line the streets, play in bands, cheer you on, hand you sweets and put out their hands for a 'high five.' It's truly uplifting to be amongst such people.

Comparisons are inevitable and I've often been caught linking writing and running. But I did consider this. I finished in Four hours eleven minutes, my brother in three hours forty. I'm pleased with my time but for a whole host of reasons, I missed out on crucial training whereas he put the hours in on road and hill. That's the simple answer.

But it was more than that. He also looked into the technicalities, splitting his time down into pace per mile. Working out a game plan. Taking advice from other runners and using it. Making sure he ate the right food and took hydration seriously.

Me? I point myself at the finishline and run. That isn't quite true, I try to prepare but it's not scientific. My training regime could be described as 'sloppy' if we were being unkind.

In writing, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that because we've put the hours in we'll be rewarded with the deal. It's just as important here to look into the 'technicalities.'

Be scientific. You can only write your own story just like you can only run your own race but know which agent is more likely to read it. Which publisher has titles in the same genre? What are the submission requirements? How can you make your work look as professional as it has to be?

Will I run another marathon? Well, I used to write short stories and run long races but for a while, I think it'll be a case of longer stories, shorter races.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Doing Anything At The Weekend?

1. Running the London Marathon. I had a huge pasta dinner tonight. The last week of training is always the best. More eating than running!

I'm still on the prowl for sponsors. We've raised over £700 pounds so far and that doesn't include money that Other Brother has raised. is where to go to donate.

Many of my blog friends from beyond the shores of this Sceptred Isle have asked how they can contribute too. Advice is here.

It's a massive address but shows that it is simple to donate from overseas.

This may be my last marathon, given that training properly requires a huge investment of time. The charity is one close to my heart. If you can spare a few quid, I'd be eternally chuffed!

2. Visiting friends! Including Sarwat Chadda at the Crystal Palace Book Festival. More details here.

3. Collapsing in the back of the car and being driven back up North on Sunday Evening!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Ceriog Blog 2

It being the Easter break over here in the UK, we decided to venture down to lovely Welsh Wales were other brother resides deep in the Ceriog Valley. Other Brother and his wife are blessed with a beautiful, rustic cottage set in acres of woodland which clings to the steep valley sides. Amazing. I've described before how he rides horses, tames the woodland, climbs trees and generally has a ripping time out here.
I stood watching as other brother set up a zip wire for the kids to zoom down the hill and through the trees. It didn't go quite according to plan but nobody got killed and we had fun. The woods this time of year are lush green and heavy with the scent of wild garlic.
This is said brother retrieving the rope for the seventeenth time.

We're often advised to write what we know, characters we know but to disguise them so as to avoid offence. I'm certain that all I know of Ceriog and other brother's escapades will slip into a story one day. It has to but I don't think he'll mind. he'll probably be some kind of heroic woodcutter!

Thursday, 9 April 2009


"So what are we doing today, Dad?" Lastborn child asks at breakfast.

"Well," I say, enthusiastically through a mouthful of porridge. "I thought we could go to Flaybrick Cemetery and have a good look around..."

I can tell by their faces that the children are not amused, nor surprised. They're used to it. Whilst writing an early draft of Mortlock a year or so ago, I came across a Victorian funeral carriage at Bamburgh castle and spent ages playing with the doors and coffin rollers. Research you see.

I love cemeteries for their history and the stories, that every headstone tells, each individual, some heart-breaking. Flaybrick was built during the 1860s when it became clear that burial sites within towns were inadequate, choked with bodies and liable to be a serious health threat to the living population. It is a gothic and atmospheric site, ruined and gradually being reclaimed by Nature:

One tomb caught my imagination, that of Isaac and Dorothea Roberts. Both Isaac and Dorothea were atronomers and I can't do their lives justice here. But it's story would make fascinating research and quite possibly a good book too. In 1888, Isaac photographed the andomeda galaxy M31, the first clear picture of an object outside our galaxy. Dorothea was awarded the Legione Du Honneur for her services to French astronomy.

The tomb is quirky and unusual. Lots of stars and nebula on it, not much mention of God. Dorothea fully intended to rest here too but died in SanFrancisco. I wonder what twist of their story took her there.

At the back is an inscription that struck such a chord with me that I thought I'd share it:

"Heaven is within us and we have the power to dwell in it all the days of our lives
Or we may decline and make ourselves miserable."

Well it made me think...maybe I should smile more often in photographs...

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Riddle Me This

"I watched four curious creatures
travelling together; their tracks were swart,
each imprint very black. The birds’ support
moved swiftly; it flew in the air,
dived under the wave. The toiling warrior
worked without pause, pointing the paths
to all four over beaten gold."

The Exeter Book Riddles (translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland)

I am wrestling with riddles. The ultimate obscure metaphors. Ancient and largely forgotten by most but children love them.
I am researching riddles for my next book, whilst waiting for my editor to get back to me about Mortlock (those of you who think the waiting ends once the deal is made take note). When I opened ‘A World Treasury of Riddles’ by Phil Cousineau and read:

‘What goes up a mountain and down a mountain but never moves?’

My second son snapped the answer out straight away: A path.
Riddles are old, very old. Oedipus staked his life on a riddle. There are riddles in the Rig Veda, the Bible, and the Koran. There are hundreds of Riddle Songs, purported to be love songs but as you travel in time through the collections from Alan Lomax, back through Vaughan Williams, and Child, you find them twisting into their original form: tales of innocent children pitting their wits against demons they meet on the highway. A slip of the tongue, one wrong answer will see them in Hell.

They come from an age before instant feedback, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones. A time when people waited. For the seasons, for a story to unfold, for a song to finish.

Our children pounce on these echoes of older times, the riddles the songs and stories, and devour them hungrily but too often we adults dismiss or misunderstand them. We see them as children’s pastimes when in truth, they are for everyone.

These are the inspiration for my stories. Mortlock came from The Twa Corbies, the Second Book, The Demon Collector, from Riddles Wisely Expounded.

And the answer to the above riddle? Apparently it is a hand writing with a feather quill on a parchment.

Take ten minutes out, mull it over.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I work with children who are on the autistic spectrum. I spend a lot of time working with teachers to give them the skills and knowledge to teach children with Autistic Spectrum Condition. It’s a fascinating and frustrating job.

Fascinating because I am privileged to hear first-hand accounts of the children, their fears and joys as they work so hard to ‘fit in.’

Frustrating because there’s never enough resource or goodwill to go round and because these kids shouldn’t have to ‘fit in.’ They should be accepted.

When I’m introducing the topic of autism or raising awareness in a school, I often recommend ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ by Mark Haddon. Firstly because it is a brilliantly written book, tightly plotted with painstakingly observed characters. I love this book; I wish I had written it.

Secondly, it gives the reader a good insight into the experience of one individual with ASC.

Christopher Boone is 15. He is brilliant at Maths and Science but finds other people difficult to fathom. He has good days and bad days, he dislikes anything brown and likes yellow. He observes minute detail but not the whole picture.

When he finds his neighbours dog lying dead on the lawn he decides to investigate. But his investigations unravel so much more. The final plot twist is heart-breaking but so plausible.

My only gripe? Well, it’s not with the book. The only problem might be that some people treat it as a textbook and think that Christopher Boone represents all children on the spectrum. They are all individuals.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

It's quiet...Too quiet...

So after the excitement, there's another kind of waiting...everyone goes off to Bologna and then things get moving. The desire is to get things moving straight away. I want to launch into book 2 (actually I'm 22,000 words in but all of them might be redundant) but we wait. And that's okay because it gives me chance to do other things.

So what have I done? How did I celebrate?

Well, I've played some music. If you listen hard, you can hear a nice Irish tune under Goodwife's critique of her camera skills. I am hitting (notice I don't say playing) the bodhran.

I also played my mandolin.

I've written a short story for my Wirral Writers group on Friday too. So I haven't been idle. And I've been reading.

I also confess to wandering round Borders last weekend smiling benignly at Bloomsbury books! I reserve the right to do this at any time.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Deal or No Deal?

Regulars to my blog will know how long I’ve been working on Mortlock. Some of you guys helped to crit it very early on. But a few months ago, I met Sarah Davies some months ago and we set about reshaping Mortlock.

And finally, it came to the point at which the book was ready to roll. I thought Sarah was amazing because of her insight into what makes a book truly ‘grab yer guts’ so to speak. But witnessing her selling the book was jaw dropping.

It’s an exciting but circuitous process, this business of getting a children's book written and sold. Someone should mention it to the United Nations, I’m sure it’s a form of torture.

You get e-mail after phonecall after e-mail…this house likes it, that one doesn’t, these people are in these are out. And then slowly, slowly a list forms…publishers who MIGHT like your book…who MAY take it further…

And then…another publisher takes it to their acquisitions meeting…

Someone else drops out because of that…

And then…finally your agent tells you that we have an offer!


I’m pretty monosyllabic on the phone at the best of times but this news left me gibbering incoherently. But Sarah got the message that I felt it prudent to accept...

Anything I say will be a cliche. Dreams come true. Opening up new possibilities. Needless to say I am a little more than very very pleased. It’s exciting, it’s a little bit scary. I can’t wait to get going but…

Consider the economic climate,
Consider the gloom that seems to surround publishing at the moment,
Consider the competition out there vying for deals.
And then I find that another deal was made too!
You have marvel at the force of nature that is the Greenhouse Literary Agency!

“You’ll probably want to lie down in a darkened room after all this,” I said to her last night.
“Good Lord, No,” She replied. “I’m off to make someone else’s dream come true, now!”


A year ago, to the day, it was my dad’s funeral. A poor boy brought up in one of the roughest parts of Hull, he valued our education and would have been so immensely proud of this achievement. I know it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Devil's Kiss

I don't often review books, probably never, certainly seldom. People might get the impression that this is a writing blog and that would never do! However, the gentlemanly Mr Sarwat Chadda did me the great favour of sending me an advance copy of Devil's Kiss.

"Once the Knights Templar were the greatest military organization in Christendom. Popes, kings and princes knelt under their gauntleted hands. But now they are few, just nine warriors lurking in the shadows, fighting their secret and eternal war. They survive, but only just. All it would take to wipe them out is One Bad Day. That day has come."

Billi SanGreal is the only girl to be initiated into the Knights Templar, a teenager struggling to come to terms with her father's brutal obsession with battling the forces of evil. Whilst helping him to battle the forces of evil. Cope with school. She longs for a normal life. And this as a backdrop to a struggle of epic proportions.

I have to admit to a little trepidation on opening the book. What if I didn't enjoy it? Would I struggle to finish it? I find it hard to finish books I don't enjoy, I'd sooner ditch them than waste my time.

I needn't have worried. The opening scene hooked me and dragged me deep into Billi's dilemma. The ensuing tensions and revelations propelled me through each chapter...I couldn't put it down!

Plenty of action and gore. Plenty of plot twists and character tensions to keep you guessing. Some of the scenes are mind-boggling!

It's a little while since I opened a book in the morning, missed the passing of the hours and closed it as the darkness gathers with a sense of awe. But that's what happened with Devil's Kiss.

A real treat from start to finish. It's flying round the family now, you never know a real teenager might get to read it one day!
My only gripe? The sequel isn't out yet!

Due out in May 2009 in the UK, and Fall 2009 in the US.