Making a song and dance of it….

There’s a lot of pressure on authors, kids authors in particular, to be performers. It often isn’t good enough for new talent to be deft storytellers, what’s as important, is whether they can entertain 30, 60, 120 or more kids live and in person. It’s enough to give established authors, never mind debut ones, a serious case of the jitters.

Last week was my turn, but I’ve got to be honest, I’d been really looking forward to it. Obviously I love writing, you wouldn’t sit in a room for months on end, ignoring the lure of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ if you didn’t, but I knew I’d enjoy the touring as much as the creating bit.

The aspect I love most about my job is talking about books, and to be honest there’s not enough time spent doing that, so to be allowed and encouraged to stand there and talk about my own book? Well, count me in. I’m completely up for it.

The good folks at Puffin had set me up with a couple of days of school events last week, all in South East London, and I had the best time.

Tuesday meant a morning spent at the Walworth Academy, talking to two groups of 60 year 9 students. It was the first time I’d done the event for an audience that age, and it’s fair to say I had to work a little harder to tease questions or observations out of them. No-one wants to look an idiot in front of 59 others…me included. What worked best in these sessions, was undoubtedly reading passages from the book, so I gave them 2 passages, one that showed how Billy viewed his life in care, and one from later in the book, where he starts to use his aggression in a more positive light. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to see 60 pairs of eyes fixed on you as you read. It’s a special feeling, and certainly an addictive one.

If Tuesdays sessions taught me anything, it’s that you cant have too much material. With the year 9’s feeling hesitant about asking questions, I devised a further piece about the process of being published, what an agent does, what a first draft looks like, how the cover came together. Thankfully though, I didnt need it in thursday’s sessions.

First up was the Bridge Academy in Shoreditch, and a fabulous theatre space where I spoke to 120 years 7 and 8 students. The difference in response was marked, they asked questions from word go, even those sat right at the back, and the next fifty minutes screamed by, leaving me to sign a flurry of books and timetables (!) at the end. Loved it. every single second of it.

After a brief interlude and a lunch time curry (spoilt rotten!), we were onto the Bishop Challoner school near Wapping, and 80 year 9 pupils, all boys. There’s something great about speaking to single sex groups, especially boys, and whoever said lads that age have no emotional intelligence hasn’t got a clue. The students I was lucky enough to meet engaged brilliantly, firing questions that were often challenging to answer…

And well, that was it for the week. But what a brilliant, challenging and hugely fulfilling few days it was. And now? Well it’s up to me. I have several more events lined up, and invites back to the schools I visited last week (so gratifying). It’s great that work are giving me some time off to get stuck in. It’s an opportunity I’m not going to pass up……

Having a ball….

Yesterday was a smashing experience as I attended a media day, organised by Puffin at their offices on the Strand, overlooking the Eye and Westminster. It was their opportunity to present a selection of their publishing highlights for the year to press, media, librarians and bloggers, so it was bloomin lovely to be invited along as one of their authors.

Each author had three minutes to talk about their new project, but far from feeling like a bizarre twist on speed dating, it was actually a great exercise in condensing what the book is really all about and why I wrote it in the first place. It was certainly gratifying that folk came to speak to me afterwards and dig a bit deeper about the kids I worked with.

The other great part of the whole thing was meeting a number of other authors, many of whom I’ve read and respected for a long time, writers like Jeremy Strong and Meg Rosoff. I was also lucky enough to chat to one of the people who really inspired me to write in the first place, David Almond. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that affected me as much as ‘Skellig’, so to meet him was a bit special, and what a terrific, warm man he is. (I’ll stop there before I start to sound a bit psychopathic).

The rest of the afternoon was spent in interviews with ‘The Big Issue’, with the fabulous Ciara from ‘Spinebreakers’ (who recorded a video interview for the site), and with my good friend Graham Marks, who was asking questions for ‘Writeaway’. It’s an odd experience talking at length about yourself, but certainly not unenjoyable when an old mate like Mr Marks is asking the questions….

When I left the offices, six hours after arriving, I had a sore throat, a heavy bag of books (some crackers as well) and strangely enough, a rather good feeling about it all.

A day to remember. I hope there will be more to follow….

“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…