It's that time of year again! The SCBWI Conference held in Winchester every November is one of the highlights of my year. This was my fifth conference and it not only gives me the chance to hear from best-selling authors such as Frank Cottrell Boyce and Anthony McGowan but also to catch up with friends and acquaintances in the writing world.
I say it every year but the SCBWI Annual Conference put me on that long and winding road to publication. This year my favourite quotable quote was from Mr Cottrell Boyce and it went along the lines of, "If you plan hard, you get what you planned for. If you let go, you might get what you never imagined!" Which I kind of subscribe to at the moment as I'm making a number of leaps of faith.
Congratulations to the organising team for another superb event. If you're an aspiring or perspiring writer, you really should go.
I popped across the mighty River Mersey yesterday to see Tony Higginson, the bookselling force of nature behind a new venture called Formby Books. Tony is a legend in and around Merseyside. He gets authors into schools, children reading books and with such energy and enthusiasm. From time to time I read on Twitter or Facebook people bemoaning the fact that they find it hard to support their local bookshop. Most will have an online presence and Formby Books is no exception. Buy your books from Tony. Simple!
I was also lucky enough to bump into Joe Delaney of Spooks fame. I've met Joe a few times now and he's a real gent. He was promoting his new book I Am Grimalkin and another short story anthology called Haunted .
I love the challenge of writing short stories, summing up a character in as few words as possible, the beauty of brevity! Last Summer, I wrote four short stories that ended up on the Mortlock website, you can shuffle over there now and read them if you haven't already. Enjoy the new game there too!
I'm mulling over a number of things at the moment, the fourth book, work and life in general and other stuff but I think I'll be writing a few short stories over the next few weeks. What'll happen to them? Who knows but they're fun to write and that's what counts right?
"Billy is a street urchin, pickpocket and petty thief. Mister Creecher is a monstrous giant of a man who terrifies all he meets. Their relationship begins as pure convenience. But a bond swiftly develops between these two misfits as their bloody journey takes them ever northwards on the trail of their target ...Victor Frankenstein. Friendship, trust and betrayal combine to form a dangerous liaison in this moving and frightening new book from Chris Priestley."
I have to confess to being a big fan of Chris Priestley's work long before I met him at various Bloomsbury events and realised what a true gent he is too. So when I was lucky enough to get hold of a proof of Mr Creecher a few months back, you can imagine, it didn't malinger on the bookshelf for any time at all.
It's a clever, clever story with the reader fretting for Billy from the outset as he struggles to survive in the mean streets and rookeries of London in the early 1800's. Billy and Mr Creecher's relationship develops believeably, with a question mark hanging over both character's motives as they pursue Frankenstein. A gothic roadtrip with two of the most unlikely (and yet likely) travelling companions, Mr Creecher leads you to a satisfyingly tragic and chilling conclusion. You close the book in the full knowledge that things can only get worse for everyone concerned!
Mr Priestly blogs here and I preordered the book here.
So the Summer draws to a close and the mantra of 'Back to School' echoes beyond the high street department stores and into the aching hearts of children and teachers everywhere...
And what have I been up to this long Summer break? I always end the holiday convinced I've done nothing.
A trip to Ireland proved restorative and informative (see below for trip to Father Ted's house). I heard a really creepy ghost story which I intend to tell at up-coming festivals and events. I drank a few pints of Guinness and ate tones of seafood.
I've written somewhere in the region of 50,000 words, revised The Bonehill Curse and sentit back to the editor. I wait with trepidation! The 50,000 words all now need rethinking because half of them were for a project that I put the brakes on (20,000 words in) and the others were for The Many and Varied Deaths of Jeb Marney (my fourth book rather than Book 4). I suddenly had an even better idea for Jeb and so will be rewriting. Nothing will be wasted though, that's the joy of writing! And all with the help of a social networking 'holiday.' More about that another time!
I've been down to London to record a video for Booked Up. That was fun!
I've read tons of stuff, the highlights of which were: Haywired by Alex Keller (ace book), Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King and a glorious pile of Uncle books by JP Martin.
But truly the best day was our trip to Knowsley Safari Park courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. If you're not familiar with them, their basic mission is:
"to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy."
How cool is that? They are an awesome charity and took us to the Park in a Limo. We had a personal tour, going off road and up-close to the animals, we fed elephants and giraffes and I was kissed by a sealion!
Sometimes the medical needs of one member of a family and the dramas that surround it make 'normal' life impossible. Make A Wish made one day for our family extraordinary in the best possible way.
I went to see the last Harry Potter film yesterday. I really enjoyed it, my favourite (as it was in the book) part is Neville's heroic stand! I also came out of the film with the sense that it was the end of something. The books and films have become so inextricably linked that it was the last film that had to end the era. So I felt a little sad too. But as I came out of the cinema, I noticed this and my heart leapt!
For the uninitiated, John Carter is the hero of Edgar Rice Burrough's Martian books. John Carter is a confederate officer and prospector who is mysteriously transported to the dying planet Mars. It's a planet inhabited by huge, green, six-armed martians and their more-humanoid red counterparts. These were books I devoured as a teenager and so the prospect of seeing them as a film blew me away! Especially as the story has had such a tortuous journey to our screens!
I got so excited, I dusted down my old copy of A Princess of Mars and re-read it. A Princess of Mars was written in 1912 and obviously this shows in the writing and some of the attitudes in the book but the sheer scale of Burroughs' imagination is breathtaking and I was quickly drawn into it again!
I also loved the Marvel comics based on the books and have recently purchased the full collection! Edgar Rice Burroughs is more famous for his Tarzan books so ably rebooted by the talented Andy Briggs! I wonder if he could do the same for John Carter?
They didn't have Summer Reading Challenges when I were a lad. they did have libraries and I think I've told most folks how libraries are probably the reason I read and write now.
So I was so chuffed to have been asked to launch Wirral's Summer Reading Challenge on Friday. What made it doubly thrilling was that it was in Bebington library where I once met Brian Aldiss as a teenager and found out that he plotted his stories on the back of big pieces of wallpaper.
Anyway, that's another story. It was good fun, here's me throwing a crow at some children:
The children decided which kind of readers they might be: Strong men or women (Thick Books), Escape Artists (Adventure), Clowns (Comedy), Magicians (Fantasy). I had a super time and I think the children did too! So enjoy the Reading Challenge and use those libraries!
Blimey, last week seemed to be a week of twos. Two birthdays (my eldest son and daughter share the same birthday but were born two years apart!) and two awards.
The first was Sefton Super Reads which is well described by the lovely Bookwitch here. This was a great event. I love meeting new readers and I even got to read some of their reviews which was brilliant. My mate Tony from Pritchards Bookshop was there as were leslie and Zoe from Sefton libraries. They've been so supportive since Mortlock first hatched! I also got to meet Mary Hooper and catch up with Ellen Renner (a SCBWI pal).
But then I had to jump on a train and zoom over to Halifax for the Calderdale Book Award. Again, if anyone doubted that children have an appetite for reading should come along to one of these events. busloads of pupils from schools all over, keen to ask questions after they've read all the books on the shortlist. I met up with authors Andrew Newbound, Chris Mould, Fiona Dunbar, Mark Wright, it was brilliant.
These prizes are so important. They highlight all the hard work that librarians and teachers put in enthusing children about books. But they also celebrate the joy of reading.
Oh, and Mortlock won both! Such good taste, these youngsters!
Many moons ago, when I was a truculent teenager, my dad would tell me stuff. It would go in one ear and out the other. I see the same glazed expression in my own children when I tell them stuff. Yeah, yeah, yadda, yadda, what does he know anyway?
Of course, I'm bound to say this but I do wish I'd listened a bit more closely or asked more questions. Thinking back, he gave us some fascinating snippets of the past and he's no longer with us otherwise I'd be recording, noting down, questioning, trying to get a fuller picture.
One story he told was of his dad, my grandfather who fought in the first world war. We always think of northern europe as the main theatre of war for that time but my grandfather was shipped off to fight in the Lebanon against the forces of the Ottoman Empire who had aligned themselves with Austria Hungary. It was another world.
In one battle, so I'm told, a shell flew over from the enemy lines, exploding close to my grandfather. the blast threw him high into the air along with tons of sand. when it all settled, my father had landed miraculously unharmed but buried up to his neck. He could see the Turkish line advancing but couldn't move because of the weight of the sand. It's a great image. His friends rescued him.
Sadly, his luck ran out when he rescued a wounded comrade but was shot in the legs and had to have them amputated. He never recovered by all accounts. He returned home and died some four years later.
But there are lots of little stories that my dad told us and I didn't really listen fully. My brothers and sister will have different versions of these tales, slightly varied, slightly modified.
So whatever you think of Father's Day (and I confess to being a big fan: chocky and a cup of tea in bed won me over) take some time out to listen to the stories your fathers tell you. there could be a story in there somewhere and you'll be glad you did one day!
I don't often give writing tips on this blog. There are plenty of fantastic folks around the blogospere who'll cheerfully do a better job than me. Also, I try to keep this place accessible to my readership and audience so I keep pearls of wisdom to a minimum! But for once, I'm going to make an exception because you see, I'm absolutely gutted!
Backtrack to the week before last. I went to Birmingham for a Young Readers day of events. I was well looked-after by the librarians there and as I travelled around, I had this brilliant idea for a story. Fast forward to yesterday. In little less than a week and a half, I'd written 15,000 words, fallen in love with my characters, developed a twisty plot. Everything was going great.
And then it all went... wrong.
Whilst browsing a few websites, looking for nothing in particular I came across reference to a series of books on the same theme as mine, using very similar characters, very similar creatures even. My heart sank.
Now I know that if you're writing a vampire book (I wasn't by the way) you can look on Amazon and find thousands of them but yours might have different terms of reference, another slant. The guy who wrote this series had stolen my idea, gone back in time and written MY story before me! It was the only explanation. Well either that or he's got a good imagination and beat me to it.
I always do my homework. I check titles, I read around the genre. I try my very best to make sure what I'm writing is as original as possible but this time I failed. And if you want the honest truth, I'm grieving a little for my characters who I'd just got to know so well and so quickly. I know they'll crop up somewhere else but at the moment, I'm a bit glum!
So my advice is: Check your idea is original and then do a little lateral thinking. What alternative titles might your story go under? Check them out too!
The thing about writing is it involves a lot of waiting. I've been bursting to mention this for a while now but have held off until it's official so here it is:
May 3, 2011
MORTLOCK author Jon Mayhew's THE (MANY AND VARIED) DEATHS OF JEB MARNEY, about a boy healer who, accused of murder, sets off on a quest through Victorian Britain to find the seven fragments of the Grim Reaper's scythe blade, only to discover that each piece is guarded by one of Death's multiple identities and that he has been manipulated into a mission which will lead to the hideously unpleasant deaths of all humanity, to Ele Fountain at Bloomsbury Children's UK, in a two-book deal, for publication in Spring 2013, by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency.
I'm so lucky to be represented by Greenhouse Agency and to be writing for Bloomsbury! And to be writing some more... well... I'm more than chuffed! I'll sign off before the exclamation marks get out of hand!!!
I'm writing a particular section in my latest book which will be out, all being well, next year. It's a harrowing piece because it describes someone changing into something horrible and creepy-crawly. There's something about transformation stories that give me the shivers. I think it stems from a book called "Alfred Hitchcock's Tales for After Midnight" that sat on my bookshelf for years when I was a child. It was a thick book of short stories. One of them was called The Fly by George Langelaan. It was the inspiration for the films of the same name. the description of when Andre Delambre steps out of the machine, looks at his hand and tries to scream will never leave me.
I wonder why changing is such a horrific theme; werewolves, vampires, zombies all involve the normal changing, transforming into something awful and frightening. Maybe it's because we change as we grow older and certainly go through dramatic changes during adolescence. The Fly always freaks me out though.
I was so chuffed that Mortlock won the Warwickshire Book Award. When I started writing it, my hope was that it would be published, maybe by some small publishing house and I'd see my name on the spine and some people would read it and like it. So for loads of children to read it, vote for it, champion it, and even perform a presentation based on it, was humbling to say the least!
Mrs M often expresses our feelings through the medium of pies and so we had a big Sunday dinner today and this was the apple pie:
If you look closely, you'll see the bear and the ragged staff in the pastry. The bear has a little 'M' on his tummy.
Just to make the point a little more, here's the poster in the background too! I'm so grateful to everyone who championed Mortlock and can't wait to get down to see you all!
It all began calmly enough. A simple signing event at Waterstones Liverpool 1. What could possibly go wrong? "You are okay, aren't you?" Adam, the children's bookseller asked. "Only someone came in the other day asking for a signed copy of Demon Collectors saying that it might be valuable now you were dead!"
I want to meet them again, I'm sure they're my kind of people!
Things began to get a little silly when a gang of girls from Weatherhead High School came in and began singing the praises of Mortlock and dragging punters in off the street to meet me. We only had to pay them in balloon demons (or was it zombie rabbits?)
Finally, I settled down to smiling at passing punters who tried not to catch my eye when who should appear but the lovely Sophie and her boyfriend. She'd bought Mortlock at my last appearance and has spent the year telling everyone who'll listen how great she thinks it is.
Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when she realised The Demon Collector was out. But she only had enough money for either the cinema or The Demon Collector.
She turned to her boyfriend with an appealing smile and said, "I can't go to the cinema tonight, d'you mind?"
If looks could kill... well maybe those signed copies of Demon Collector would be worth something!
To celebrate the official launch of Demon Collector, Bloomsbury have whisked me all over this sceptred isle, visiting schools and libraries hither and yon! I've met some brilliant children who love reading and, even better for me, love Mortlock.
Tonight we're having a little party to welcome Demon Collector into the world. A few guests arrived early but we managed to ossify them before there was any mischief!
These were officially ossified demons, so we thought we ought to make that clear.
I was also pleased to see that the third Mortlock short story has been added to the website. I love the way Bloomsbury have taken these stories and set them out just like the books, same font and everything. And the fact that they're free!
In this one Jacob Carr meets a demon who has taken over Jacob's favourite pub. Not a wise thing to do, but demons were never wise!
"Great," I thought. "My very own bookshop. Where shall I put it? In the garden? Adjoining the East wing of my castle? (All children's authors live in castles, you know... on account of the vast riches they earn).
But no. Apparently, they stay where they are and you lot all get to use them as well!
Which is important actually. Last year, when I was still drooling over the blackened pages of Mortlock, a young man by the name of Tony Higginson took me by the lapels and dragged me round manytoomany schools and sold manytoomany books for me! He's a champion of all kinds of literature and sells books out of Pritchards in Formby. If you subscribe to their website you'll see how many events he organises to push books and reading. If you call him, he'll get you a signed copy of Mortlock or Demon Collector, with a personal message too if you want.
Booka Bookshop in Oswestry is a place of fine books and fine baking. Again, great champions of Mortlock last year!
And where would I be without Adam at Liverpool 1 Watersones and Lynda at Chester branch?
You see, ordering online is all fine and dandy but times are tough. When our local Borders sank the year before last, it struck me that it left the whole of the Ellesmere Port and Neston area without a bookshop. That's around 81,000 people, 6 High Schools, I don't know how many primaries. So on second thoughts, you can share my bookshop but I'm still adopting!
As I've said before in this blog, I didn't read much as a child. But I do remember getting this book. I was on holiday. This is a 1973 edition so I would have been about 10. I remember it sitting in a holiday gift shop in one of those book stands that twirls round. I used to be fascinated by book covers even if books held little attraction. The Pan Book of Horror Stories always drew my eye. I couldn't look away from them. But wanted to!
The cover for "A book of Devils and Demons" also caught my eye. And no wonder, being drawn by Brian Froud! I didn't realise this until I picked the book up today. I've been a huge fan of Froud's illustrations and his designs on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.
The stories inside are from all over the world. The demons aren't always all-powerful, they are folklore devils, pompous, full of self-importance, wily and yet stupid too. Sometimes they are kind and put right injustices. Other times they are blustering bullies who get outsmarted time and again.
When I wrote the Demon Collector, it was these creatures I had in mind. So thank you Ruth Manning-Sanders.
Well, that was a week and a half! Down to London and Waterstones Picadilly to rub shoulders (and occassionally elbows) with the great and good of children's publishing.
It was great to meet up with my friends at Bloomsbury and with some SCBWI pals too. I really need to invest in a camera. Either that or try and keep up with Candy Gourlay as she takes better pics than I ever could!
Julia Churchill from Greenhouse Agency was there too.
After the award we went for a meal and a great time was had by all. It's so amazing to have been shortlisted by Waterstones, I'm still wondering if it all really happened.
And I got to meet Anthony Browne! Ace!
The wonderful Kathy Evans has interviewed me here and you can get to choose what kind of demon you'd be!
I spoke to some brilliant pupils at Range High School on Friday. They were so polite and even tolerated my bad jokes and technical ineptitude!
They even marvelled as I cradled The Demon Collector in my arms and cooed like a proud new father. You see it was the first time I had seen it too. Bloomsbury shipped out some super early advance editions to sell on my school visits over the next month. It's a real treat seeing Book 2 all bound and black-edged!
And of course I took a copy home and sat it next to some of my favourite books. My twins, side by side. Brilliant!
This is the creature from the 1957 film Night of the Demon, it's based on the MR James story 'Casting the Runes' and a variant cropped up recently called 'Drag me to Hell' I believe.
Once, when I was a fairly small child, my parents were watching Night of the Demon on TV and I knew it was on. They sent me to bed but I really wanted to watch it so I sneaked downstairs again and peeked round the living room door, desperately hoping my Mum and Dad wouldn't spot me.
The film terrified me and I'm not sure if it was my panting breath that gave me away or my whimpering. Let's just say I was packed off to bed pretty sharp!
But I still remember, with a shiver, the strange chirruping sound that heralded the arrival of the demon and I know I didn't get much sleep that night. I like to think that experiences like that stimulated my imagination!
I've always been a bit of a 'wuss' when it comes to horror films but I will make myself watch them now and then. Being scared is a natural feeling and I'm sure it's healthy to be scared every now and then.
I'm not advocating the wholesale chasing of children round darkened buildings by someone dressed as a clown and weilding an axe but a little controlled fear let's you know that you're alive.
The trouble is, you can always close the book and stop reading for a while. It's your imagination you can't control sometimes...
Or you shall surely go with me. ‘Now answer me these questions six,
Or you shall surely be Old Nick’s.
‘Now answer me these questions nine,
Or you shall surely all be mine.'
Riddles Wisely Expounded is a traditional ballad from the days when story, song and dance were the only forms of entertainment. The ballad has changed and 'morphed' into all kinds of shapes and sizes but the one above was the most chilling for me.
Imagine being on a lonely road as twilight falls. You meet a stranger at the crossroads and you have to guess his riddles right or you'll be carried off to the firey pits of Hell forever!
In The Demon Collector, the demons can't resist a riddle or a wager. They trade riddles and introduce themselves with riddles, testing each other, seeking out a weakness.
Nowadays, our folk songs have become fragmented, half remembered and incorporated into children's rhymes. The sinister nature of Riddles Wisely Expounded faded and was boiled down to a love song, popularised in one version by Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair."
And demons too have become celluloid monsters, tearing and rending life from limb. Some of the demons are like that in the Demon Collector but others are, I hope, a little more subtle. Others are so infected with the sin they're meant to promote that they've become weak parodies of themselves. The demons, just like the old songs are dying.
I've had my study redecorated! I call it a study, it's actually a small box room at the front of the house. It's so small, I had trouble taking a photograph!
I've always written all over the place but I have spent quite some time in this room too. In the past it's been full of boxes and step ladders but now we've cleared it out, given it a lick of paint and put shelves up to contain all my clutter!
Father Christmas brought me theMoominpapa and he's cool! You might just see a crow puppets beak to the left there and another crow sitting by my table lamp. A gift from the lovely Kathryn Evans, he went on a number of events with me but he's quite battered so he can rest there.
The books to my right are a mixture of dictionaries, Brewers Fable and Phrase and a trusty Thesaurus. Mayhew's Characters hides behind a couple of books about London and then there are some folklore books too. Next to Moominpapa, you can see my homemade notebooks.
On the wall is a picture of my tribe and I with the Chuckle Brothers (don't ask), a clipping from the Guardian showing a crow with a cigarette in its beak (very curious), and a lovely Green Man print from the talented Trish Campbell of Woodlandia.
Oh, and behind me is a massive white board for brainstorming on!
It all looks very orderly now but come back in three month's time and it'll be a total mess!
I'm so thrilled about this. It's brilliant. I've had incredible support from local independent bookshops but I have to say that the staff at my local Waterstones store have been passionate champions for Mortlock too.
And to be placed in a list with such accomplished writers. I've met Irfan Master whose book A Beautiful Lie came out this month and I know Candy Gourlay through SCBWI and Tall Story was one of my favourite books last year. It'll be a stiff competition.
But it's wonderful to be on the shortlist and I get to go to London and hopefully I'll meet Anthony Browne! All very exciting!
It's not often you get something for nothing but here goes. If you go to the Mortlock website www.mortlockdemon.com you can download a short story there. It's all about Mr Wiggins and a strange encounter he has.
There'll be a Mortlock story a month in the lead up to The Demon Collector. Each one will feature favourite characters from the Mortlock stories and some you've never met before. Bloomsbury have done an incredible job on them, same font and 'look' as the book. Wonderful. So go, treat yourself... have a story on me.
Well, 2011 is here and today is a special day for Mortlock as it comes out in paperback! It doesn't seem that long ago that I had the vague image in my mind of a boy, an undertaker's mute, who could raise the dead. The seeds of Mortlock as it turned out.
2011 looks to be an exciting year! With a Mortlock short story published on the website each month in the run-up to the publication of The Demon Collector in hardback in March. I'll publish a link soon.
Excitement too as Mortlock has been shortlisted for at least six regional awards so who knows what this year holds?
My writing resolutions?
For a start, I'm going to try to keep this blog more up-to-date! You wouldn't think I used to blog everyday!
To make sure that I ENJOY my writing. Publishing is a business, I know and a professional approach is essential but it ain't worth it if it becomes a chore. It can be hardwork, it can be challenging, I don't mind that but I intend to keep it...magic!
To stop using the word, 'had.' It should be banned and had been until recently... doh!