Sunday, 23 January 2011

I've moved....

I've moved my blog over to my new site, so please follow me over there. You'll find me at;


Friday, 5 November 2010

Successes and failures...

....I say failures, but in all honesty, there haven't really been any this week.
OK, so I didn't finish the 1st draft of book 2 (despite the finest intentions), before the arrival of young Stanley Edson, but frankly I'm not going to give myself the hardest time about it.

Having spent the past couple of months bricking it about our ever-expanding brood, it was frankly a relief to see the wee man arrive safely. And now that he is here, the fog has lifted a bit. I've managed to read and enjoy some of a book for the first time in ages (Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin). Ridiculous I know, but I've really missed being able to just concentrate for a few minutes.

The writing has felt similarly enjoyable. I've not covered myself in glory, but I've chipped away at a chapter, come up with an idea for a school event and had some really positive feedback on what I have written of the new book.
It's really nerve-wracking letting someone read what you're working on, and a lot of authors don't let anyone in until draft one is complete and polished, but for me, a bit of a confidence boost mid-draft really helps, even if the feedback is 'it's a bit sketchy'....

So, the sleep patterns are going to be a bit out of kilter the next few weeks - did I say weeks, I mean months, but I'm well set to push on and deliver in time for Christmas.
I didn't just promise that, did I?
Ask me again in a month.......

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

In the words of the great Ice Cube....

...Today was a good day.

Or rather yesterday was.
You see I meant to write this last night, but then the divine Mrs E ruined it all by inviting lovely friends round for a monkfish curry....not that I'm moaning, about the curry or the friends. Both were absolutely spot on. As was the day as a whole, as I turned thirty-six yesterday.

I think I'm enjoying birthdays more as I get older. I don't buy into feeling maudlin about nearing 40, it doesn't bother me. Maybe as it gives me an excuse for being grumpier, increasingly agrophobic and a little wider around the word, how lucky my missus is.

I got absolutely spoilt rotten. Presents included;
A digital radio
Where the Wild Things Are (DVD)
The new Paul Heaton CD
A subscription to Empire mag

and my 3 favourite gifts;

'Ostrich Boys' by Keith Gray (which I read in manuscript - more to follow on the great Mr Gray in the future) - a brilliant novel for any age group

the complete box set of one of the finest dramas ever made (forget '24' box sets, this is up there with 'Six Feet Under' and 'The Wire')


a couple of brilliant vintage world cup posters. The one above is just fabulous.

I was also in bed by ten o'clock...another sign of getting old, and one I don't object to either!
After all, with the baby due in two days time, who knows when the next proper kip will come.....

Monday, 11 October 2010

For goodness sake, concentrate!

Do you ever have periods when you can't concentrate on anything?

At present I seem to have absolutely no staying power whatsoever. Whether it's the impending doom, sorry did I say doom?...I mean excitement of our new arrival  (17 more days at gas mark 5), or the fact that publication date is less than three months away, I can't tell. But whatever it is, it's all a bit of a struggle.

The biggest telltale sign is that I am completely unable to finish a book at the moment. I've been reading something for about 3 weeks now, it's a book that everyone in the trade is excited about, and I can see why.
It's really strong. Everything about it says, yep I'm going to sell. But can I get to the end of it?
Can I buggery. I wouldn't mind but it's not even 300 pages long!

It's verging on the embarrassing. Especially when folk at work ask what I'm reading and I have to admit it's the same thing as last time they asked....publishing folk read fast you see, there's no time for shillyshallying around....

Book number two, however is progressing ok, although I wish I could think of a title for it.
"Being Billy" started out life as "Never Tear Us Apart", until no-one liked it.
I can see their point, I suppose it was all a bit 'INXS'...
At the moment book 2 is just "Daisy,"which of course will never do.
If book 1 does ok then perhaps "Being Daisy" will make commercial sense, but it's a big 'if'....

It feels like the content of it is going well though. I've written about 66,000 words now, which is about the length that 'Billy' ended up at, and I'm nowhere near the end.
It's round about now that I scratch my chin, shake my head and think that perhaps a chapter by chapter plan might have been a good idea.....

And finally, in news just in, I just wanted to say a big thank-you to my friend Danny Bree, a fine fellow who I've known some thirty years.
Bree has saved me the shame of seeing a proof of "Being Billy" going unsold on ebay. He paid a princely sum for it, and I hope that it's worth every penny.
Bree - I salute you. Oh and I owe you 99p plus postage...cheers buddy xx

Right...back to Daisy....bye for now

Monday, 27 September 2010

Word gets around...

I've banged on before about word of mouth and how important it is to the success of any book, so it's been really lovely these last couple of weeks to start hearing back from people who've given the proof copies of 'Being Billy' a whirl.

Most of the feedback has come via librarians, people who I guess picked up a copy whilst at the YLG conference in Cardiff, and so far their responses have been incredibly encouraging. I've had a couple of invites to go and speak to both book-groups and attendees at a conference. What will make both of these events really interesting is that I'd be speaking directly to children in care, a prospect that both excites and terrifies in equal measure...

Obviously, it'll be fascinating and humbling to talk to kids in the midst of similar situations to Billy, to hear their stories, to see how much life in homes has changed since I worked in them in the late 1990's, but at the same time, what if they don't relate to what I've written at all?
I've never lived through the things they have. I was a carer (or as Billy calls them 'scummers'), on the other side of the fence, someone who was lucky enough to have a family to go home to at the end of the shift, so how can I possibly imagine what it must be like to live their lives?

I suppose this is the biggest challenge for anyone writing, to capture a level of authenticity, to enable the reader to say 'yep, that's exactly how I feel'.
And that's why writing for kids or Young Adults is such a fantastic challenge, because they are the harshest critics. Why would they waste time wading through a book that they aren't enjoying or can't relate to, when there a hundred other things fighting for their attention...the simple truth is, they won't, and this thought always keeps me on my toes when I'm writing.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I spend too much time worrying, my old boss even nicknamed me Eeyore for that very reason, so I'm keeping all this in check, trying not to let the worry take over, remind myself that I have got inside Billy's story after all.

I got a message this week from a lady I've never met. She got in touch via Twitter, and her message really made me smile. She liked Billy enough to get in touch and tell me. She even went as far as posting a review on the Puffin website, and I've decided that whenever I worry about whether I've got inside Billy's head, I'll just give it a read.

Her review says.......

'Borrowed this pre sale book from my daughter who is doing a review for her local library. I didn''t expect to like it but quickly found I couldn''t put it down. Having fostered a child in a similar situation several years ago this story really hit a cord. The whole book is compelling and the characters totally believable full of strength and dignity. If this is the first, I can''t wait for the follow ups. Well done Phil for tackling such a difficult subject.'

Friday, 17 September 2010

Getting Over The Line......

There are approximately forty-five days left until the new addition makes an appearance.
In fact as it’s bubba number three, it could be a lot less…..but I’m banking on the forty-five days, if not forty-seven, as both Albie and Elsie were two days overdue.

Now I know this all sounds like splitting hairs, but two days is two days, and at the present rate of writing, it equals about three thousand words, or a chapter and a half.

I haven’t been on a deadline since university, so that’s fourteen years since I sat scrabbling around at , looking for a non-chewed pen to start my essay with.
Back then, I knew where the time had gone, how I’d frittered it away - it had gone in the bar drinking snakebite and black, or in the Asian Kitchen…ah, happy days.

I’m not sure this time though, where the year has gone?
I mean, between signing the deal with Puffin and having to deliver book two, I’ll have had the best part of eighteen months to write a second story, and in that time I’ve got through nearly 60,000 words, but it’s still nowhere near done.

It makes me wonder if I should be a bit more regimented about it all.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve chatted to a couple of very talented, successful authors, and its interesting (to me at least) to hear how differently they work…..

One of them is a full time writer who works to a daily word count.
1500 words.
Not a lot, granted, but that is his magic number.
He writes, largely in coffee shops, plundering the wifi at the same time, and as soon as the word count is hit, then bang, the work day is over and the fun begins. What that means basically, is that within two calendar months, he has a full draft completed. Broken down like that, it makes perfect sense….and think of all that free time……

The other writer told me about his old regime (before he gave up work), which meant storing up all his writing time into a block, in his case one day a week. That day was put aside for nothing but writing, no distractions or TV or friends, just him and his laptop. The days in between he didn’t really have time to pick up his pen, and would instead use the free minutes to think about where the story was going next……

I’m thinking I’m going to have to get my arse in gear and work to a better schedule. I reckon I’ve another 40,000 words to crack until this first draft is done, and after that there’s the inevitable (and more than likely, lengthy) re-writes……

I’m determined to get it done though, in fact I’m quite up for the challenge. I might even have the occasional snakebite and black to oil the cogs and help me on my way….

Sunday, 12 September 2010

"Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be....."

Yesterday, between 11 and 11.30 am, I felt like a rock star.
Well, I say a rock star, maybe not Keef Richards or Mick Jagger, probably more a northern Chesney Hawkes who’s had one curry too many, but I was a rock star all the same….(cue chorus of ‘One and Only’)

I spent Friday and Saturday at the Youth Librarians Group Conference in Cardiff. Now you might think this isn’t the place that rock stars congregate, but you’d be wrong, as a lot of the most important and revered kids writers and illustrators were present to talk about their work, good folk like Cathy Cassidy (the newly crowned Queen of Teen), Chris Riddell and Helen Oxenbury, legends all.

I was there primarily to work, manning the S&S stall, pressing our books into the librarians hands, but as I was already there, the good people of Puffin very kindly organised for me to sign copies of ‘Being Billy’ in one of the coffee breaks.

Now the book isn’t out until January, so we were using the proof copies of the book created for this type of occasion. To get people reading and hopefully loving Billy now, so that when it finally appears on shelves, they’re primed and ready to recommend it.

I was a bit nervous about it, still felt like a bit of a fraud amongst these established writers, and of course there was a very strong chance that I would end up sat for half an hour with a pen in hand, a pile of books in front of me, and no-one interested in having one….

But the brilliant thing was, the books were free, so I needn’t have worried, of course people would take one off my hands.
It was a surreal and fantastic way to spend half an hour, scrawling my name in my cack-handed way in the front of my book, and the really terrific thing was a number of the librarians had already read it, loved it, and so wanted a copy for their colleague, or with one of their customers in mind.
I don’t think I’ve ever grinned as widely, or for as long as I did.
I’ve worked so many signings over the years, so to be sat at the table instead of managing the queue? Well it felt like a bit of a defining moment really, like maybe I am a proper author after all.
Time will tell, but for now, I’m still grinning….