Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Word of Mouth……

….there’s nothing like it.

Publishers have spent years in windowless meeting rooms talking about how to get the buzz going on new or established authors (I feel like I’ve sat in on my fair share of them…).

It’s the most discussed subject in books, apart from ‘how do create a crossover sensation?’(grrrr, the hours wasted on that little gem..), but it’s talked about for a reason, because you can’t beat it.
There’s nothing more gratifying than watching a book that you absolutely love fly off the shelves, and when it’s flying because booksellers are hand-selling it to customers, who in turn are raving about it to their mates, well it’s a magnificent feeling. Better than…(fill in your hedonistic pleasure of choice here)

Don’t get me wrong, a well-placed ad campaign can work wonders, but these are few and far between on debut novels, and quite rightly too.

I like the idea of a book going out on the shelves without that sort of fanfare. Love the thought that your proof copy has landed in the right hands, and that the story has been enough to persuade booksellers or librarians that this is the next book that their customers have to read….

It’s a risky and romantic belief this. I remember our staff room at Ottakars being jammed full of unread proofs, each of them raved about by reps as the next big thing. 90% of them would sit there for a few months, until we couldn’t open the door anymore, leaving us no option but to fill the skip with them (even the charity shops didn’t want them…).

But I’m not going to linger on that thought. I’m just going to have faith that the jacket and the copy will be enough to entice booksellers to give ‘Billy’ a whirl.

The other thing that I hope will help are the quotes.

One of the many great things about working in bookselling, or publishing, is that you get to meet people, people whose opinion counts, and so when I got the deal with Puffin I wrote to some of these good folk and asked them if they had time to read my book.

And do you know what, they did.

I fretted like mad whilst waiting to hear. Worried they’d hate it, or even worse, that they’d feel compelled to say nice things out of a weird sense of loyalty, even though they owed me nowt…
…But I needn’t have worried, because these good people came up trumps, and it was the most brilliant confidence boost you could ask for.

What’s even better is that they said I could tell other people what they thought, and so, the good people of Puffin have put some of the quotes together, laid them out snazzily, and will put them on the back cover and inside the book.

I really hope that these kind words do the trick. I hope they entice people, booksellers, librarians, Joe Public, whoever, to give this a whirl, and spread the word. Have a look below and tell me what you think…would you read this book??

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Clock is ticking…..

….and a bloody loud alarm is going to go off on October the 28th. Or thereabouts, as that’s when the newest Earle is due to arrive.

It’s fair to say it was a shock. The prospect of going from one to two was scary enough, but three??!?

They say it’s the magic number. But they also say it’s a crowd, especially when all three of the little beauties will be under five years old.

Pray for us….(if that's your bag)

The news threw us a decent sized curveball. It meant the two bed flat had to go, to be replaced with our lovely new three bed abode (WE HAVE STAIRS…IN LONDON!?). And as with any house move, it had its stresses, ones that I dealt with in a supremely ineffective manner. But it was worth it, as the new gaff is brilliant.

The baby also means a new car, one big enough to fit three kid seats in the back, plus the unlimited paraphernalia of buggies, scooters, travel cots ….but to be honest, that’s ok. What’s a bit of debt between friends?

The biggest pressure (because I’m still in denial that the bump is anything but a doughnut overdose on Laura’s part) is getting the second book done before the madness ensues.

Ah yes, the second book. That difficult second book.
I always thought that saying was a load of old arse to be honest.

You read about authors, or musicians who take years to follow up their first offering, and that always seemed a bit self-indulgent to me. I mean, how hard can it be? You’ve done it once already, take your head from up your derriere and get on with it…

So that’s what I’ve done.
Kind of.
In a fashion.

Except it’s been, well, difficult the second time around. Not because of the genius of what I wrote first, as after all, ‘Billy’ isn’t even in the shops yet. It hasn’t sold a copy and wont do until January.

No bugger has even put a proof copy on ebay yet! Booksellers aren’t what they used to be...are they paying you more these days?! (joke! Please hand-sell my book…)

I’ve thought about why I’m finding it more tricky this time, and part of it is due to pregnancies, and house moves, and all that jazz. After all, it’s hard to be creative when you’re absolutely bricking yourself about where the next nights sleep is going to come from.
But part of it is a lovely dilemma, and one I am absolutely not complaining about, as I’m so lucky to have a deal that allows me to write a follow-up.

But the dilemma is this. When I was writing the first book, I was writing it for me.
Alright, I daydreamed about finding an agent and a publisher, but it was just a fantasy at the time. So a result, there was no pressure. I wrote it for me, to occupy myself, and I was the writer as well as the editor, agent and audience.

This time around, there’s already people waiting to read it, willing it, as well as needing it to be different, and better than ‘Being Billy.’
None of these people put pressure on me, none of them have been anything but magnificent and encouraging, even when I asked them to read tiny chunks, just to put my mind at ease.

The mistake I made I think, was paying too much attention to the worry. As instead of chipping away, and doing what I did with book one, an hour a day, at least 5 days a week, I buried the book and ignored it. Wrote nowt. Which just made the paranoia worse.

In the end, the due date of the baby has done me a favour, as it’s forced me to get back to good habits, to get back to the daily routine of me and laptop, and to tapping out at least 750 words, 5 days a week.

And it’s worked. Alright, I’m still paranoid about falling short and letting folk down. But seeing the pages fill up quicker than they have in months, has given me the buzz again, and helped me to create the book I wanted to write in the first place.

I think Daisy’s story is going to be harder to write, after all, I’m not a fifteen year old girl (no comments at the end of this blog please!), but I’m absolutely determined to enjoy the process as much as the first time around.

And if I enjoy it, hopefully it’ll rub off on whoever reads it afterwards……good theory, eh?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

"What's it all about...Billy?!"


The two line pitch.
It’s what I’ve been trained to do.
To find a way of selling a book to customers in two lines…or twenty seconds -  whichever comes first.

I’ve been thinking this way for so long that I thought it would be a piece of the proverbial to knock one out for ‘Being Billy’.

But when I sat down to think about it? Well I sat there looking at a blank piece of paper for a long long time.
It’s even more embarrassing when people ask you in conversation what your book’s about and you falter, mumbling something that sounds as riveting as, well, reading this probably….

But I shan’t give up. I’m still confident that I’ll come up with something pithy before the 6th of January. And in the mean time, here’s a slightly longer idea of what ‘Being Billy’ is all about….

I was fantastically na├»ve at the age of 21. Yep, even greener than I am now. So when I started work in a children’s home in Hull, I honestly thought that the greatest thing that could happen to a kid in care was to finally be adopted. And for some children, it was.

For others though, it wasn’t the fairytale ending it should’ve been.
Some had been in care for years, living with eight other kids and a constantly revolving roster of carers. It was an existence that left them institutionalised.
A lot is made of jailbirds struggling to adopt to life outside the prison walls (anyone remember that scene in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ when the elderly ex-lag hangs himself?), and I always thought it must be the same for these kids.

I mean, how do you cope, at such a young age (when all you have known is this communal, regimented upbringing), with suddenly being part of an ‘orthodox’ family, where it’s just you, a mum and dad, maybe a sibling or two?
How do you adjust or learn to trust the same two people putting you to bed or getting you up in the morning when for as long as you can remember, you’ve had half a dozen people a day looking after you in shifts. Adults who tell you they care deeply for you, before clocking off to go home to their real family?

It was heart-breaking seeing fostering or adoption placements breaking down as a result.
How do you recover at the age of ten, when you’re told by the second family that promised to look after you, that it’s not working out, that you’re going back to the home you spent years trying to escape from.

That’s the situation Billy finds himself in at the start of the book.
And understandably, he’s angry, violent, and disillusioned.

The one positive thing in his life is his younger siblings, nine year old twins, who live with him in the home. Billy is both a mum and a dad to them, and fights daily to give them as ‘normal’ an upbringing as he can.
But when their mum, a recovering alcoholic, starts to get her act together, and makes noises about taking the twins home again, but not Billy, well his world really starts to implode.

As you’ve probably guessed from reading this, the book is a comedy….influenced by movie classics like American Pie….
…the weird thing is though, despite the edgy, emotional things that happen throughout, there is humour in the book, honest. Because the kids that made me want to write it were funny, not maudlin.
They certainly didn’t sit about and mope about how crappy their life was. Many of them didn’t know any different, after all.
They were certainly mixed up, many felt displaced or unloved, but they had a spirit, a resilience that no-one, not even an abusive parent, could kick out of them.

During any given shift (which ranged from eight to about thirty hours) I could be swore at (and I mean creative cussing from a six year old that would make Chubby Brown blush), punched, kicked, scratched or spat on. There were days when I’d be on the end of all of the above, but the amazing thing was the same kid who’d inflicted all these things on you, was as likely to come up to you at some point in the same day and ask to talk to you, or want a hug, or to share something with you.
These kids were a brilliant bag of contradictions, and working with them was just humbling.

That’s a big reason that I chose to write about Billy. I wanted to take this kid, the kid who you’d cross the street to avoid, and I wanted to try and show why he behaved like he did. To show people that no matter what crap flew at him, he had the bottle and the desire to fight his way out of it. That in fact, he had more spirit and desire than many of us combined.

Whether I’ve managed to achieve this in a way that makes for fun reading, or whether it’s a subject people will want to read about, remains to be seen.
But I had a bloody good time trying…..







Friday, 20 August 2010

Just the basics....


A year ago, almost to the day in fact, something rather bloody marvellous happened.
I managed to land a book deal.
With Puffin.
And I’ve been trying to get my head around it ever since.

I could lie to you and tell you that it was a lifelong dream, and that I’ve been writing ever since I was old enough to pick up a wax crayon, but that would be a porkie of epic proportions.
I spent most of my childhood trying (and failing) to be as good as my brother at sport, and had a bloody good time doing it.

I must have liked books (Flat Stanley was a standout) as I chose to study English Literature and Drama at Uni, but I mostly read utter crap as a teenager, film-tie-in novelisations - ‘Predators’ anyone? I even read an adaptation of ‘Auf Wiedersen Pet’! Don’t judge me, I’m not proud of it.

It wasn’t until I got a job in a bookshop though at the age of 26, that I realised what I wanted to do.
I was given the traditional ‘new-boy’ sections to look after at first, sci-fi, true crime, erotica, but after about six months I got moved over to kids books, after everyone else had said no to the chance.
But I loved it.
LOVED it,
And was lucky to have a boss, Lesley, who completely lit the fire under me, and fed me the right books to read. I can’t remember what the first book was, I think it was either ‘Skellig’ or ‘Holes’, both obvious but essential, but that was it, I was sold. And I’ve not stopped since. I do read adult stuff sometimes – I’ll drop everything for a new George Pelecanos novel, but largely, 95 percent of the time, it’s kids stuff, Young Adult in particular.
I’ll bore you with the titles I really love some other time...

It was while I was working at Ottakar’s that I decided to give writing a whirl.
I was watching Celia Rees do an event in the shop (she was talking about ‘Witch Child’) when I had an idea, the greatest plot ever dreamt up, and spent the next three years writing it on a battered old laptop during my lunch hour.
It was brilliant, everyone said so, well, everyone except all the agents and editors that I begged to read it. They were very kind, and gave me good feedback, but it was clear it wasn’t good enough.

So I did what any proud wannabe writer does. I stopped writing. Completely. Didn’t write another word for about five years. Went back to reading and selling them instead of embarrassing myself by trying to copy the people I admired.

Loads of good stuff happened then. I got married, got a job in kids publishing, put on some weight, and had two beautiful insomniac children.
It was about three months after Elsie was born that I got the itch to write again.
We weren’t getting much sleep, and were feeling pretty brain-dead as a result. Evenings consisted of getting the kids to bed before slumping on the settee with a bottle of plonk and a box set of 24. This was all well and good, but after 72 hours with Kiefer Sutherland, something had to give.

I’d been carrying an idea around for years, about an angry kid, abandoned both by his mother and the family who adopt him years later, and decided, on the spot that I’d give it a whirl.
It took me about 5 months to get a draft done, and by that time I’d harangued an old friend, who was now an agent, to take me on. With a lot of spit and polish, the removal of a hell of a lot of swearwords, and a month of the most painful waiting ever, I had two offers to choose from…and Puffin it was.

I’m a lucky, lucky man.

I want to use this blog to talk about writing, but not just my own, god that would be dull for me, never mind you…but about good new stuff, a bit about the process of getting published, and general excitement as and when it happens.
Come back and have another read, there’s nothing more depressing than writing for an audience of one…..