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….

Monday, 6 September 2010

ways of working.....

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what I’ll say when I start school or bookshop events in January.
Working at Ottakar’s for as long as I did, I saw a lot of authors talk brilliantly about their books, or how they wrote them.
It’s funny, but there’s a lot of pressure on authors now, in particular kids authors, to not only be good writers, but performers as well. There are some extraordinary characters out there entertaining kids, people like Philip Ardagh and Darren Shan, who can hold two or three hundred kids attention just like that (*snaps fingers*), and who are so inspiring.
There are canny authors as well, who know that regular contact with schools across the country will do wonders for their sales, as well as allowing them to earn a living between advances.
I have to admit I’m really excited about getting out there. The bit of my job I enjoy most is waffling to customers about books, so to be able to do it about something of my own is going to give me a massive high….

But what to say?
I’ve listened to many writers speak about the hours they pore over their computer or notepad.
How they banish the internet or telly between 9am and 5pm.
How they can’t work with background noise, or unless the temperature is bang on 20 degree celcius…

Next to that sort of dedication or intensity I feel like a bit of a fraud.
I’m not worried about it or anything.
Can’t afford to be.
I have to write on the go, don’t have a choice about it.
As I write this I’m sat on the X68 bus, just about to go past ‘The Old Vic’ Theatre, and I should, London pile-ups permitted, be home in about 40 minutes.
Just enough tie to get this blog written…..

I don’t know how many writers have jobs, part-time or otherwise, I’d imagine plenty of them, but I do really enjoy having to find time to write.
When I was writing ‘Being Billy’, it was all about 8 to 9pm, Monday to Friday.
As soon as the kids were asleep, that was my time.
Alright, it wasn’t a sustained period, but it was usually enough to bash out 750 or 1000 words, words that I’d revisit the following night before cracking on again. Either that or I’d print them off to read on the bus or tube the next day….

I’ll happily write on the move, but if I’m at home, then it’s always in the lounge, in my chair (my beloved reclining, increasingly tatty Ikea chair), and often, more often than not, with the telly on.
I know, I know, I can hear the tuts of disgust, but I can’t help it. I’ve always liked background noise, even when I was a kid doing my homework, I’d do it with Eastenders on or something.
The weird thing is though, is that I can’t write with the radio on. Telly yes, radio no.
It doesn’t distract me if Man Utd have just conceded a penalty, I can write through that, but if Mark Radcliffe is cueing up a new obscure bluegrass track, then it stops me in my tracks….

…weird, I know.
One for a psychiatrist I think.

It drives my missus mad.
I tried to put it to her that she should be proud of having a husband who can multi-task, that it’s not everyone who can write and watch at the same time.
I got short shrift with that theory, funny that eh?

So what do I say when I’m stood in front of class of year nine’s in January?
How do I make my writing foibles palatable or acceptable?
I’ve ‘hummed and ha’d’ about it and have come up with this theory, which is a bit of a cop-out, whilst being entirely true at the same time.

‘Find what works for you and stick with it.’

If writing one hour a day is all you can do, then commit to it.
If background noise helps channel your brain then embrace it.
Don’t be told that there’s a right way or a wrong way, because it simply isn’t true.

Just make sure that whoever you end up living with or married to, knows you’re a fruitloop before they unpack their bags…..