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 midnight, 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….

Orignial blog post written here.

“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….

Original post appears here with comments

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 time 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…..

The original post appeared here with some comments…

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??

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?

The original post appeared here with comments