Thursday, 31 December 2009

Five Miles

I did 43:33.6 last night, improving my record by 55 seconds.

I read a book about running over Christmas. I am supposed to call my best time my PB!

Should I bother putting this in my blog? Tell me if not.

There are four women standing around my car in the car park. One of them just leant on the side of my car...

... they've gone now. Phew.

Car Parks

I spend a lot of time in car parks. Especially in the school holidays. If it's a day I am working. Like today. I am usually waiting for my wife and daughter who are doing something and needed me to give them a lift.

I am in the Hedben Bridge train station car park, thinking. With a cappuccino from Squeeze, the joint best cafe in the world.

I am thinking about next year. How I am going to work really hard. Writing. Doing events. Running. And, then, when I'm at home, not working.

Three days off now. Iris and I are going to make plaster casts of animal footprints. She got me a tracking kit for Christmas. It might give me some good ideas for stories.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

2009 and all that

It has been a good year. These are my highlights:
  • going to Ghana and Egypt to research books and talk in schools
  • the Football Academy series launching and doing so well
  • getting into running and doing my first race
  • being asked to do three more Football Detective books
  • meeting Helena Pielichaty and setting up READS UNITED
  • Leeds United winning about 40 out of their 60 games in 2009
  • going on holiday with my family to Cornwall - twice
  • reading books by Jed Mercurio
  • being on Blue Peter
I'm lucky. I know it. These are exciting things.

But the best thing about 2009 - by a loooooooooooooong way - has been my wife getting better.

Happy New Year!

World Cup toolkit

I finshed off the World Cup toolkit I've been doing for the National Literacy Trust (NLT) today. It's called Love Football: Love Reading. It is a toolkit of ideas to use the World Cup (June to July 2010) to encourage football lovers to love reading too.

There is stuff like how to run a football book group, classroom activities, library displays. It's aimed at schools and libraries, but can be used by parents too. It lists lots of good football fiction authors.

I am pretty pleased with it. NLT are going to design it up and have it available to download from March, I think. Jim Sells is the ma behind it, along with me.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Too much going on

There is too much going on.

I am supposed to be writing. But Leeds United are on the radio and England playing cricket online. And my daughter is downstairs making our airfix Concorde model with another man.

How am I supposed to concentrate?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Hot Toddy

I did the Hot Toddy race today. My first race since school, 30 years ago.

5.8 miles through the Pennines in driving sleet.

It was a personal challenge. I've not had much chance to train, on account of the foot of snow that's been about for the last few days.

But the race went well. My wife and daughter came to see me off and cheer me in. I came about 196th out of 244. My time: 52 minutes exactly.

I know I'm no athlete, but I feel pretty good about it. It was a great way to end the Christmas period. I ate a lot a bad things this weekend.

Now it's back to writing the next book. The fourth Foul Play novel. I got the plot sorted before Christmas.

I can't wait to get stuck in.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day

I hope you had a happy Christmas. I did. I got some great stuff.
  • the latest Anthony Horowitz 'Alex Rider' novel - I am a big fan
  • a map of the world you can colour in
  • a music box in the shape of Moscow's St Basil's cathedral, as featured in my book Dead Ball
  • socks
  • a book of short stories by Roald Dahl about being a fighter pilot
  • and lots moreItalic
But it's not about getting presents, is it? The best thing was being with my wife and daughter. I love it when my daughter calls out first thing in the morning. 'He's been!'

I got them tickets to see Strictly Come Dancing Live in Manchester. That made them happy.

And Leeds won today. 3-1. So that made me happy.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


I ran my usual five mile road route in 42:28 last night. Fourteen seconds better than last time. It's the race in four days. I am going to do the route again tomorrow. I hope to break 50 minutes. But there's a foot of snow on the road up there.


I've been sledging with my daughter the afternoon. Bombing down a hill near where we live. She is getting braver about it this year. But on one of our early runs we nearly went over. I managed to keep it steady. Just. I think if we had gone over she would have given up winter sports for good.

This after I finally cracked the plot of Football Detective 4 in the Bear cafe, this morning.

I showed the first 20,000 words to my writing group last week and they were into the the villain, a nasty 16 year old who has just been released by a Premier League football club. He was just a fringe character, but, because they liked (or hated) him, I am going to give him a bigger role.

I like being in a writing group. It has a huge effect on the books. One, because their feedback makes the books better. Two, because I write bearing in mind their criticisms of previous books. Three, because the books seem to need less editing at Puffin if I've shown them to the group.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Hot Toddy

So I did the route of the Hot Toddy run today. 5.8 miles up and down hills near where I live.


Not bad for an unfit overweight 42 year old man with a dodgy knee. I loved it, though. At one point I was on the tops with fine rain showering me, 50 geese circling overhead. Bliss.

I started a story I am doing for Tom Watt's 2010 anthology of football stories today. I did the plan. The idea is that 5 writers do stories - plus 5 footballers. All about Tom's fictional Shelby Town FC.

The writing group gave their feedback on the fourth Football Detective novel last night. Pretty good. I was pleased.

Mince pies. I've had four already today. Mmmmmm.

Monday, 14 December 2009

It's been a while...

I've been busy not working for a few weeks. My wife had to go into hospital in late November and is slowly recovering at home with Nurse Tom. But she is recovering well, which is a relief.

No more dark clouds looming over us.

I have not done much writing as a result, but will start big time on Wednesday. Less than two months to finish a 40,000 word novel. I've done 20,000 first draft so far. But I like the pressure. My writing group meets tomorrow at my house to give its verdict on the first half.

I've also been running since I last blogged.

There's a race in my home town, called the Hot Toddy. 5.8 miles up and down hills on 27 December. I've entered. I haven't done a race ever. I got my 5 miles down the road and back from 50 minues to 48 minutes and yesterday 44.42 minutes. Tonight I want to break 40. But may die in the process. It's a ridiculous target. But it gives me something to blog about, I suppose.

I've been reading two novels by Jed Mercurio. I'd not read him before. He is amazingly good.

Leeds have stopped winning.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Wales II

I am still in Wales.

I got a train from Newtown to Machynlleth to work in a school this morning, except it was delayed by an hour, so I got to Machynlleth late.

It had rained all night and was still raining. The fields were like lakes, sheep clustered on high ground, trying not to drown.

I had slept badly.

I walked to the school, asking directions as I went. In the rain. Half way there and it started chucking it down. By the time I arrived I was soaked.

But there was a room full of lads waiting to do a penalty shoot out, so I put my goal up. I’d hardly got started when a lad came into the class to tell us some of the school buses were taking people home. At 10.30am. The lesson ended. And I was told I should try to get out of Machynlleth (by, I should mention, a lovely teacher called Carwen).

I got to the station. All the trains were off. I was told we were cut off. But that there might be a bus in an hour to get me out of there.

Two hours later a bus came. It struggled through flood water and gridlocked villages.

And now I am in Welshpool, which is lovely. And I’m writing.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Take Me Home

I am in Wales this week. A beautiful part of the world with lovely people, but I wish I was at home.

Authors have to get out to talk in libraries and schools as much as they can. And I do that. But I’ve been at it for months now, since the summer.

Maybe I feel like this because I’m coming to the end. In a week I’ll be at Leeds v Leyton Orient, celebrating having done my last event for six weeks.

Then home. To spend those six weeks writing and as much time with my wife and daughter as possible. And with the Leeds players, occasionally.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


I'm doing Lancashire's Shout About Books festival this week. Events in Fleetwood, Knott End, Accrington and Burnley.

Even though I am from Yorkshire and am naturally wary of the North West, I always have a good time. Lancashire know how to put on a good event in a library.

It will be good to go to Burnley. I researched my Football Academy series at Burnley FC and they were very nice to me. They let me talk to under twelve players and their parents, plus the coaches.

I was in Springhill High, Rocddale yesterday, too. Six sessions with year eights. It must have been a good day. My wife told me to stop going on about it at eleven o'clock last night. The kids were great. Four of them even supported Rochdale.

By the way, there's a great book about Rochdale FC called Believe in the Sign. It's by Mark Hodkinson. It got longlisted for the William Hill sports book award last year, so it's not the fact that he lives up the hill from me that I'm recommending it. It's great. Italic

World Cup Fever

I've got World Cup fever a bit early. It starts in seven months and a bit. England against the world.

The reason I'm feverish is that I am doing a guide for schools and libraries about how to use the World Cup to promote reading. Ideas for events, classroom games, school visits, authors you can get in, displays, etc.

I am using a lot of the things I and the National Literacy Trust have been doing for a while, but a few libraries, schools and Playing for Success centres have sent me some good ideas too.

I'm doing it for the National Literacy Trust. They'll design it up as a nice download.

So I'm in the mood. Come on England!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Roald Dahl Museum

Have you been to the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire? It's half an hour north of London by train.

It's very good. Lots to look at and do. My daughter went round filling in a story ideas book that she loved. I'd recommend it. Lunch in Cafe Twit. Nice shop. Brilliant activities.

I was there to do some events, talking to readers. The museum staff looked after me very nicely. Thanks to them.

In each of the three sessions there was a Leeds United supporting mum.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Following the football online

I'm in a hotel in the middle of nowhere with no radio reception and no decent TV channels. Leeds are at Bristol Rovers. I'm following it online. The BBC describe the game every time there's a shot, foul, corner, etc. It's good. But you know each time it refreshes something bad might bave happened.

Leeds are winning 1-0.

I did an event at Tales on Moon Lane bookshop today in London. It was good. Five Chelsea fans in the audience, but they were quite friendly.

I start Football Detective 4 in 2 days. I can't wait.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Golden Ticket

I am talking about my books at the Roald Dahl museum next week. I can't wait.

I never read his books when I was young - I never read any books.

But now I can't get enough. I am reading Boy and Going Solo now. They are amazing. His life story. He was an amazing man. And a great story teller.

It is an honour to be talking at his museum.

The lovely people at his museum sent my daughter a Golden Ticket so she can go round the museum with my wife while I'm working. She was really pleased.

David Beckham Academy

I went to the David Beckham Academy yesterday. With Ghyllgrove Junior School of Basildon.

It was really good. Some schools can visit for free. They get a day of games, activities and fun.

There was a bit of a weirdness about the place, dozens of giant images of Beckham, making it feel a bit like the church of Beckham.

But, overall, I was impressed with the coaches who were superb with the kids. One of the coaches said they were all interviewed by DB himself. That surprised me.

I learned a lot. I had a great idea for a book while I was there. But I’m keeping it in my head so it develops a bit before I say more.

Thanks to Ghyllgrove Junior School for another great two days. I go there six to ten days a year because I like the teachers and kids so much. And because they keep asking me back.

Friday, 9 October 2009


I've had a great week in Huddersfield, Manchester, Surrey, Colchester and Gloucester. It's been Children's Book Week. And quite tiring.

Tomorrow I'm at Cheltenham Literature Festival. I'm very excited. One, because it's such a famous festival, so it's an honour to be here. And, two, because it's the first Reads United event with Helena Pielichaty, author of Girls FC. We've a few dates set up already and Cheltenham is our debut.

I'm in a posh hotel here in Cheltenham. I've already seen Michael Portillo (ex-politician, who could have been Tory leader) - at Paddington - and Hilary Mantel, newly crowned Booker winner in the hotel.

I went for a run this morning. And tonight. My new hobby. I am trying to be fitter. My calves ache like mad. I've overdone it. I'll probably have to be carried down to breakfast.

Looking forward to seeing Dan, Ben and Dan tomorrow.

Sunday, 27 September 2009


A friend of mine who knows a lot about crime - and I mean a lot - gave me an essay about criminology. I am not 100% sure what it is. But I think it's about why people do crimes, what crime is, etc.

I've been reading up some more. There are lots of books about why people steal and kill and kidnap. That it's not always down to wanting to get money. I suppose I sort of knew this somewhere in the back of my head. But now I can put it into words. Sort of.

Take a boy who has everything. A big house. Loving parents. Nice holidays. But every night he goes out to spray paint walls, damage property, throw stones through windows, that sort of thing. Why does he do it? What does he get out of it?

I'm trying to create a character for the book I'm writing. I need to read this criminology stuff to understand more.

I love making up villains. It's the best bit about writing.

Wigtown Book Festival

I was at Wigtown Book Festival yesterday.

Wigtown is a small town in the bit of Scotland just north of the Lake District. It's lovely. By the sea. Lots of bookshops. Nice cafes. Friendly people. There was a pipe band and firework display the night before I was on. I took my daughter. 9pm. She loved it.

The festival has an amazing line up. At breakfast on the day of my event, who should come into the room, but Roddy Doyle? I said good morning, then kicked my wife under the table (gently) to let her know too.

If you are an author I recommend asking to go and talk there. They really look after you. If you are not an author, I recommend a couple of days in one of the hotels/B&Bs, watching events, walking, eating, etc.

I had a surprise at my event.

A few months ago I was shortlisted for a Blue Peter book award. One of the young people judging it was very honest, saying, if I remember correctly, 'I hate it'. Well, just before my event a girl came over to me and explained that she was that young person. She also said sorry. I thought it was really good of her to come and talk to me. We talked quite a bit and I told her that it's good she has strong opinions about books. I often ask children what books the love and what books they hate. That's what reading is about: strong reactions.

I should say a book I hate now, shouldn't I? To prove my point. I'll have a think...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Hotel Life

I'm in a budget hotel in Basildon. I come here a lot. I have been adopted by Ghyllgrove Junior School, working with them six times a year. They run a football writers' group. The group helps me come up with story ideas. They are always the first to read my books - and tell me where I could improve them.

There is no football on tonight. But tomorrow... Leeds v Liverpool. I need to find a pub with it on the TV. I read today that they will rest Gerard and Torres. Is that good or bad? And how do you spell Gerard? Gerrard?

Sometimes I wonder why I write a blog. Is this the most interesting thing I can come up with?

I started plotting Football Detective four today. That was exciting.

But not as exciting as having my debit card swallowed by a cash machine while en route to London and needing it to download my train tickets and pay for four days away from home. The feeling of panic at 6 a.m. was quite something. But my wife came to the rescue.

That's it. That's my exciting news.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Schutz School, Alexandria

I am in Cairo, after three days in Alexandria, where I was talking to children at the Schutz American school.

The school was great. I had a day with the kids before the school was forced to shut down because of swine flu. Then I spent a lot of time with the teachers.

The teachers were good to meet too. Really welcoming. Taking me out to bars, where I met these four England football fans.

I'd like to say thanks to all the teachers. And to Jane and Frank who manage the school. It was an amazing few days. Playing football in 40 degrees of heat. Richoting down the main coast road at 60 miles an hour. Literally. Three days of tours with Omar, Egypt's most promising keeper.
Now Cairo. I can see the giant pyramid from my hotel window. But, as it's dark, I'm settling down to watch England v Croatia.

Monday, 7 September 2009


I am in Alexandria, Egypt. Working at the Schutz American School. And it's been amazing.

I was invited here by one of the students, Omar (left, with me at the Roman theatre).

Day one, he gave me a tour of half the city. Telling me about castles and catacombs, libraries and landscapes. Alexandria is a wonderful place.

Day two, he took me to see a football tournament, to meet his family, to watch him play, in goal. His family are amazing. They have done so much to make me feel welcome. His uncles, aunts and his mother. Egyptians are the friendliest people I have ever met.

Day three - tomorrow - we're going to finish the city tour.

I worked with pupils at the school today, too. They were great. The football reading game went well. Omar in goal. There was a broken lamp incident, when the leather ball smashed into it. But that didn't stop the fun.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Panic Rooms

I've been readng about panic rooms. As you will know, a lot of wealthy people have their houses broken into, so people can steal their stuff. Usually when they're out.

But what if they're in?

There have been some terrible instances of very well known footballers' families being held captive in their own home. It must be a horrible experience.

So some of them - apparently - have installed panic rooms. They're rooms in houses that burglars can't get into. They have reinforced doors and walls. Phones, wireless internet, etc. Some have a chemical that can be sprayed onto assailants. A spray they can't wash off. Presumably that helps identify who has done it.

Most of the rooms in my house are panic rooms. Usually when I'm listening to the away games on the radio.

By the way, if you're a burglar, I don't have anything worth nicking in my house. We've got a ten inch TV and a massive dog.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Autumn, day one

September 1st. My daughter is back at school. Time to get going again.

I'm in the attic at 8am. Researching Football Detective 4, reading about burglary. Burglars on burglary. It's chilling. I woke up in the night and thought I could hear someone trying to get in. But it was the hamster my daughter is looking after for the week. It knows.

I am quite distracted today. I've got the BBC transfer deadline day live update on the laptop. Desperately hoping Jermaine Beckford does not leave Leeds. Keep away Bolton Wanderers!

Listening to Glasvegas.

Monday, 31 August 2009


I am off to lots of schools and festivals this autumn. Have a look at the website in a week or so and you'll see where and when.

But I start with two treats.

First, a trip to Alexandria in Egypt. I am going to meet the students at the Schutz American School there. I am really looking forward to it. They sound great. And I have always wanted to visit Egypt. I have four days in Alexandria, then two in Cairo, to visit the pyramids with my wife's uncle, Steve. One of my life's dreams coming true.

Second, two afternoons talking to children in my daughter's school. A bit closer to home. And a lovely school.

Off Side

I've finshed the third Football Detective book (the one based in Ghana) and sent it off to my editor. It's taken six months to write, mainly because I did a lot of reading up about African footballers coming to Europe - and about chocolate. Then the trip to Ghana.

It feels good. We've had a few days off since. Camping in the rain. Then a day at the seaside yesterday - in the rain.

But now - I am excited to say - Puffin want two more Football Detective books. And I've started thinking about the plot for the next one. It means there will be at least five books in the series.

Dead Ball has been out a month. I've met lots of readers at events up and down the country. That has been the best bit. It's great to meet people who have read the books and hear what they think of them. So thanks.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Edinburgh Book Festival

Yesterday was one of the best days of my writing career: I did an event at Edinburgh Book Festival!

It was great to walk into the festival and see my books all over the place. Quite an ego boost. The event was great too. Lots of Hearts, Hibs and Dunfermline fans vying for a large trophy.

The festival people were really helpful and kind. I used to run Bradford and Ilkley book festivals, so I should know what needs doing. And Edinburgh did it 100%. If you ever get a chance to go, do. It was brilliant. I also went to a mermaid event earlier in the day. Very good.

The best bit about the weekend was that the festival let me bring my wife and daughter (hence the mermaid event). We had great train rides up the north east coast and into Scotland. We stayed in a nice hotel. And Edinburgh is the best looking city in the UK, a far as I can see.

So, thanks Edinburgh.

If you want to see me a a festival in the autumn, by the way, I'm at Wigtown, Warwick, Cheltenham, Ilkley, Manchester, Morley and Lancashire's Shout About Books. I'll put the dates on my website soon.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

New Season

This afternoon Leeds kick off the new season at home to Exeter. I have high hopes. Sort of.

I took my daughter to the friendly against Blackburn and Leeds were good: or were Blackburn bad?

We played well. But since then we've lost Fab Delph to Villa and there are woryying rumours Beckford may be going to follow him to Birmingham, at West Brom.

But we won at Burnley on Saturday without both of them.

Time will tell....

The good thing is that football is back. So good luck to your team today, if they're playing, (unless it's Exeter).

Outcasts United

I have just finshed reading an amazing book. Outcasts United by Warren St John. One of the best football books I have read. Awesome.

It is about a town in the US where many refugees are resttled, having escaped war zones around the world. A Jordanian woman brings some of the sons of the families together to play football - and for after school classes.

Children who have lost their fathers and siblings in attrocities in Africa and Europe, as well as facing huge challenges in their new country, are given a chance to play football and forget about it - and a chance to rebuild their lives.

It is moving and funny. About football and about how refugees struggle - and succeed - to settle into a strange country.

Ten out of ten.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Article on football and reading

I've just had an article published on the Cilip website about football and reading:

if it's of any interest.

I'm at Man U's Carrington academy this morning, about to support Right to Dream in the Nike world championship for academies...

Monday, 3 August 2009

Manchester United Premier Cup

There's a massive youth tournament on in Manchester this weekend. The Manchester United Premier Cup brings together youth teams from all over the world. Look at:

for more info.

I'll be supporting Ghana's Right to Dream academy, who I met a couple of weeks ago. They're very good. I am hoping to watch them play, then hopefully the final on Saturday, before racing back to Elland Road to see Leeds v Exeter.

Dubble Agents

I did a diary for while I was in Ghana. They've made it look really good with images, etc. If you want to know a bit more about football in Ghana, fairtrade choc and my forthcoming novel, have a look at:

Monday, 27 July 2009

Dead Ball

The second Football Detective book is out next week. It's called Dead Ball.

Puffin sent me some advance copies. It looks great. Red and shiny.

The story takes Danny to Moscow to take on an evil Russian billionniare who is deeply involved in football.

I had a great time researching it, finding out about various rich Russian. The best bit was when I went to Moscow to (1) tour the Luzhiniki stadium, where Man U won their 2008 Champions League; and (2) sitting in a posh hotel bar, watching a famous Russian's private army (of 12 men!) keeping the hotel secure. Amazing.

I have given the book to couple of readers already. One lad from Leeds who had been in touch and who will be reading it on holiday in the lake district next week.

If you want to read it, you should be able to get it in most bookshops near you. Failing that, have it. Or

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

My Pledge is...

... that I will only buy Fair Trade chocolate from now on.

I think it is an important thing for me to do.

I eat a lot of chocolate, as you will know if you've seen me on a station in the UK.

Sometimes I will be in a shop that has no fair trade chocolate. If that happens, I plan to ask if they have any fair trade chocolate. Then suggest they stock some.

Virgin trains sell it, which is good.

Fair Trade Chocolate

I am back in Accra after two days in central Ghana, visiting schools and cocoa farms.

It was amazing. I talked to 60 or 70 kids in a school. The school was paid for by money that comes from people in the UK buying Divine or Dubble bars. The kids asked me lots of questions, including... What is your greatest fear?

I told them about my fear of flying. I don't like it. The one I just got off was tiny and felt like it was falling out of the sky at one point.

The best bit was when they asked me to sing Leeds football songs. So I did. Marching on together at full volume on the edge of a jungle. Then they sang some of theirs. Brilliant.

After that the lovely Kuapa Cocoa people took me to a farm to see cocoa trees and how the beans are harvested, dried, fermented and weighed.

We walked through deep forest, past burning fields and into a small farm miles from anywhere. And there we tasted fresh cocoa. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Nothing like dried, fermented, weighed, cooked, mixed-with-milk. chocolate, but nice all the same.

Now we're off to get on a plane to Rome. Me and my fear.

I can't wait to see my wife and daughter!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Ghana Match

I'm just back from Heart of Oak v Sporting Mirren, the game that decided the Ghanaian premier league. I won't keep you in suspense any longer: Heart of Oak are the champions!

The game was okay. Not brilliant, to be honest.

But the fans were. They were so up for it. Very noisy. And when it was over they filled the streets with more noise. They were blowing horns, banging drums, waving flags over their heads, everything.

It was weird that a lot of them were wearing English shirts at the game: Chelsea, Liverpool, Man U, West Ham, Everton, etc. No Leeds, which upset me a bit.

Apparently - according to my guides - if they had lost they might have attacked the referee and some officials. Luckily, that didn't happen.

The stadium was mostly without a roof. People were coming round selling nuts, water, ice creams. Overhead, during the first half, I saw a pair of giant vultures. In the second half a large grey UN plane leaving the airport.

Now I can't wait for the English football season to start. 8 August, Leeds v Exeter. I'm taking my daughter.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Football Academy - Africa

I spent a great day today with the Right to Dream football academy players in Accra, Ghana. They are good. Very good.

The amazing men who run the academy took me to some games and got me talking to some of the players. It has been invaluable.

I am here to research a book about a bad football agent who exploits boys in Africa. But this was the opposite. I met a group of men who are doing amazing work to help bring footballers to their potential, both in football and their education. Some of the their players have ended up working with Man U. Others have gone on to get great educations around the world. I was so impressed.

Trips like these really help me write books. I could sit at home and write stories about what I think it is like to be a sixteen year old boy in Ghana who is great at football. But it would be full of errors and cliches. This trip has meant I will make less mistakes.-

They even gave me a lift to the academy in the morning past one of my footballing heroes houses. Tony Yeboah. And tomorrow I'm going to the Ghanaian Premier League decider.

C heck out Right to Dream at

Monday, 13 July 2009

Train Travel

I am in Plymouth to do some events in schools tomorrow.

On the train down - direct from Leeds - I wrote three chapters. They need a lot of work, but I feel pretty good about doing them. I am hoping to finish the full first draft of Off Side before I go to Ghana.

I do a lot of my writing on trains. I like the fact there's not much else to do. Although I was a bit distracted by FIFA 09 for a while.

Saying all that I will have to rewrite a third of the novel once I've been there. I am going to be able to speak to a lot of young people who have travelled from Ghana to the UK. Their thoughts will be invaluable.

It was good to see President Obama in Ghana this weekend. He's a man of good taste.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Ghana in one week...

I am really excited now.

Kuapa Kokoo are a cooperative of farmers who farm the cocoa beans that make Divine chocolate. As well as that they actually own Divine and Dubble, rather than just supply the beans. They are showing me round some farms in the rain forest a week on Monday. I will meet farmers and talk to children in a school. I can't wait. It's all been set up by Divine chocolate.

My daughter's school has kindly asked parents to collect some books to take out there, so my suitcase is full of books, insect repellent and chocolate. Thank you to all the kids and parents for that!

Why chocolate? Because Divine gave me a large box of sugar coated choc eggs and Dubble bars. Most of the kids in the cocoa farms have never tasted the chocolate made with their beans, so I am taking some of that too.

I have read a lot about fairtrade chocolate in preparation. When you buy chocolate you have a choice between knowing the farmers are being paid properly for the chocolate and not knowing, with the risk that some of the chocolate you eat has been farmed by forced slavery.

Have a look at for more info. It's a great website with lots of films interviewing Ghanaian kids.

Calderdale Book Award

Congratulations to Matt Haig who won the Calderdale Book Award last night at an event with 100 Calderdale children.

It was a great day, organised brilliantly by the library service. The kids and the teachers were all really up for a good day. As were the authors.

That's twice Matt's beaten me to a book prize, but I wasn't so upset, seeing as he is a nice man.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Ghana in 2 weeks

I'm going to research Football Detective 3 in Ghana in two weeks. I have had some wonderful help from Divine Chocolate. They are amazing. I hope to be meeting some footballers out there as well as going to some cocoa farms.

The novel is half written. My writing group gave it a good report last week, but it still needs tonnes doing on it. After this coming week I have less events and plenty of time to do that.

I am a bit nervous about going to Ghana. But that is good. When I'm nervous I notice more around me. That will help me write a better book, I hope.

I am happy that there are some family coming to stay with my wife and daughter while I'm away. I always feel guilty goiong on research trips. But not this time.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Windmill Primary

I had a great day at Windwill Primary school today. In Northamptonshire. We did some quizzes and took some penalties. But the best bit was the questions. They were brilliant. From years 3 to 6. The star performer was one of the teachers, whose name I didn't get... but you know who you are. He was an excellent keeper!

I have been asked to do a story for the Puffin Post magazine tonight. A 400 word mystery. I'm used to writing stories of 15,000 or 40,000 words, so it'll be a great challenge.

Best get started then...

Sunday, 21 June 2009


I'm in Northampton. In a hotel. Eating chocolate. Listening to Duffy.

I just finished reading the first 25,000 words of Football Detective III. It needs work. But is getting there.

I have my writers' group in a week. They'll read the book this weekend, then tell me what is good and bad about it, where it needs work. I love this process. I have learned so much from Sophie and James doing this. I have 48 hours to knock it into shape before sending it off to them.

I have been reading a great book called The Belly of the Atlantic by Fatou Diome. It's about a boy who wants to play football in Europe. He lives in Senegal. Not really that much like my book, but a great way to help me build one of my characters. Reading books and seeing films about things close to what I am writing about helps.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Feet of the Chameleon

There's a great new book about African football coming out soon. Ian Hawkey's Feet of the Chameleon. I read it early, thanks to the generosity of the author. It is amazing. If you remember Roger Milla and others and want to know more this is an amazing book.

I have read three books about African football now. This is the best by a million miles.


My wife likes Divine chocolate.

She was eating some recently... and she read the back of the bar where it says about how the chocolate is made and how the farmers in Ghana get a lot more of the profits than other chocolate producers give them. In fact they own the company!

So she emailed Divine. To see if they could help me with the next book I'm writing, partly based in Ghana. They sent back a lovely email and I went to see them last week.

I am really exicted. They are going to help me meet people in Ghana and hopefully help me visit a school there to talk about the books. And we came up with some great thoughts on who I could meet out there and how I could work it into the books.

I feel like the novel has taken a great leap forward. Thanks to Divine.

I say this while eating a Divine Dubble Bar. Very nice.

Sunday, 7 June 2009


I've had two weeks off with my family in Cornwall. On the beach. In the sun. Eating cream teas. Building spectacular sandcastles with my wife, as my daughter watched on, puzzled.

But now I'm back. This week I'm in Manchester, St Helens, York, St Helens (again), Basildon and London. I am looking forward to getting out there. Although I love writing most, I love hearing kids talking about what they like to read and taking penalties at me.

I was supposed to be writing in Cornwall. 20,000 words was my target. I managed 5,000. So now I've got some serious writing to do. I want to get the first draft done before I go to Ghana in July. Once I've been to Ghana I will have to change loads, but I need to get it down so I know what to look for in Ghana.

I have to admit I am a bit rusty. I need to do 2,000 words tomorrow on trains and in the cafe at Manchester's Victoria station.

I can't wait.

I have started two new blogs today. One about crimes in football. One about being a dad. I'm told I need to do more on line. Have a look. If you think they're rubbish let me know.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Museum of Slavery

I went to the Museum of Slavery in Liverpool today, after talking at a couple of schools. The museum is very striking. It makes you think... hard. If you are ever in the city then it's well worth a visit, as is the Maritime Museum.

I was there to see if I could think about how the book I am writing has bits about slavery in it. I'm still working it all out in my head. I'm not sure.

I'm also reading an amazing book by a Ghanaian author called Amma Darko. It is about a woman who is made a slave in Germany - and it's set pretty much now. The character I am going to write about in Football Detective 3 is going to be a sort of modern slave.

I am reading all these books and going to these museums (and Ghana) to make sure I get it right, as well as for ideas how to write the book.

Friday, 15 May 2009


I've been in London at the end of this week. In a school called Eaton House and in Kingston Library today. Both really good fun. Tomorrow two libraries in Tottenham.

It is hard being in London considering my team, Leeds United, lost to Millwall last night in the play offs. My daughter is getting into Leeds United now and I was hoping to take her to Wembley for the final. One day...

I am watching Milton Keynes Dons v Scunthorpe in a hotel room now. (That's the glamorous lifestyle of an author!) No offence to MK Dons fans, but I want Scunthorpe to win. Then have them beat Millwall in the final.

Off Side

I've written the first 10,000 words of Off Side, the third Football Detective novel. It's going well mostly, but I'm struggling to get the Ghanaian player right. I can't get in the head of a sixteen year old boy from Ghana in the UK for the first time.

So I'm going to read some books about Ghanaians who have come to the UK, talk to a couple of players (hopefully the Wigan keeper) and go to Ghana in July. That's the only way I can do it. In the mean time I can write Danny's bits.

I am loving writing it. I have been reading a lot about slavery. It is going to be a part of the story, so I am reading a history of slavery and will be going to Liverpool's museum of slavery on Wednesday. It's something I thought I knew about. Until now.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Off Side

I am just about to start the third Football Detective book, Off Side. It is to be partly based in Ghana, West Africa. I am reading a lot in preparation for a trip to Africa to see how young players are developed. I am very excited about the trip.

This is the best time of writing a book: I'm dying to get stuck in. I start on Tuesday on a train to Portsmouth from Yorkshire. I am going there to talk to some groups of readers who are taking part in the Premier League Reading Stars scheme. PLRS is all about footballers recommending books for familes to read.

Now... I am listening to the last round of games in league one on radio five. Relegation. Promotion. It's a very tense time. If Leeds win today and Millwall don't then I can go to both games. But if not, I will miss both, which is annoyting. But - as things stand - Leeds are winning and Millwall are losing.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Lancashire - Everton - Leeds

I did an event at Lancashire Libraries on Saturday. It was great, as events in Lancashire always are. It was at Clitheroe Library. They asked great questions and took some good penalties.

Then I did an event near Man U's ground. All the families were Man U. Some were saying they thought Everton would beat Man U in the semi today. They were right.

I am going to Liverpool tomorrow for another event. I expect to meet lots of happy Everton fans.

While in Liverpool I will also have a look at the Slavery Museum. In reading about Ghana I am fast finding out that a large part of the country's history is bound up in slavery. So I think it's important I find out more, seeing as my next book is about a more modern form of slavery.

Friday, 17 April 2009

First research

I went into Leeds today to research my new novel. It's a nice time. Going into libraries and bookshops.

I had a good look through some travel guides to Ghana. Places to stay. Things to see. It was very useful. As were the history books about West Africa. Although there won't be loads of historical background in the book, I like to have a good understanding of a place before I go there and write about it. Well, as good as possible.

I also found a book about an Englishman with Ghanaian parents who travelled to Ghana. That will be really useful.

I got an email off my agent yesterday: Puffin want the book by the end of August. That's good. It means I have to get stuck in. I have all of August off to write, except a few events in Leeds, so it'll give me time to write once I'm back from Ghana.

Thursday, 16 April 2009


I am going to start writing Football Detective 3 tomorrow. Or the planning.

This is the best bit. Anything is possible. The book is perfect in my head: because it's not on paper.

Part of the book is set in Ghana, home of the legendary footballer, Tony Yeboah, who I saw many times at Leeds in the nineties. If you want to see something amazing look on You Tube at his two goals against Liverpool and Wimbledon, both within a week, for Leeds. Awesome.

Today - after taking advice from Naomi - I booked my flights. To Ghana. I have to admit to being nervous. But that's part of the thrill of writing books. I was nervous going to Moscow to research the last book. But it was one of the best trips I've ever been on. And it means the book (Dead Ball, out in August this year) is more realistic, and hopefully better.

Naomi is sending me a list of Ghanaian novelists to read. I start to work out the plot tomorrow. Then lots of reading.

I love being an author. I love it.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


I am thrilled to say I've been put on another shortlist for a book prize: the Cheshire Schools Book Award. So thank you to them.

I missed out on the Blue Peter Book Award and the Stockton Children's Book Award last month. But being on the sshort lists was great - as was meeting the other authors. I very much enjoyed talking to the other authors in Stockport.

Football Academy

My new series, Football Academy is out this week. Two books: Boys United and Striking Out. It's great to see them on the shelves.

The series focuses on a Premier League under-twelve side. Each book is about a different boy and his progress at United. But each book also includes all the fourteen members of the squad.

I did a lot of research to get the books right. I went to Burnley FC to meet their academy players, parents and coaches. They were very helpful. I also talked to people at the FA.

Each story - I hope - shows what it is like to be an eleven-year-old playing at a Premier League academy. If you've ever fancied knowing what it's like, then it might be for you. It's not all fame and money. That's what I found out when I was researching the books.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Blue Peter Award

I didn't win the Blue Peter Award this week. But being on the shortlist was amazing. Unbelievable. I was really happy to see the short film they made of one of the scenes.

And the book that won it - by Matt Haig - is very good. So are the books by Andy Stanton and Jeremy Strong. Just to be in their company was a real thrill.

There's some good stuff on the Blue Peter wesbite about the award. Try out to hear writing tips from Matt Haig, Berlie Doherty and me.

Congratulations to Matt Haig, anyway. We're up against each other for the Calderdale Book Award too, so maybe I'll get the chance to equalise. Or maybe not...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Good Books

I've read two great books this week.

Joe Rat by Mark Barratt
It's based in Victorian London and about a boy who makes a living finding valuables in the sewers. It's a grim start for any character. But it gets worse. Once he's out of the sewers a gang try to rob him of what he's found before he can sell it. But Joe is a great hero and the book is wonderful. If you like drama, danger and brilliant characters, this is for you. Really. I can't recommend it highly enough.

There's Only One Danny Ogle
by Helena Pielechaty
A story about a boy who moves from the town to the country and tries to get a football team going at his new school. It's about friends, enemies, family and football. I read it one sitting. I have read dozens of football stories. This is the best short one (i.e. under 15000 words) so far. Five stars.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Bearkeeper by Josh Lacey

Just finished Bearkeeper by Josh Lacey. What a story!

It's about a boy who goes to London to search for his missing (maybe dead) father - and to avenge a wrong. But he gets caught up in the world of London and its dark side. And then with bears. And dogs. And murderers. And actors.

I don't want to give too much away, but the bear scenes are amazing. One almost too sad to read. Then others brilliant and uplifting.

This is a cracking story that barely* lets up, always something happening. It's frightening. Horrible. Moving. Everything. I'd really recommend it.

* no pun intended!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


It's been a good day for news.

My agent rang to say the BBC are going to do an audio tape of Foul Play - and they want to do a large print version too. I'm really pleased.

Also, two TV things.

Blue Peter are doing a short interview with me for their show in the first week of March. I'm going in next week to answer their questions. It airs on World Book Day - 5th March - I think.

Plus, there's a docmentary on BBC4 on 9th Feb (at 9pm) called Why Reading Matters. I think I'm on it. They came and interviewed me then to see an event I did at Sowerby Bridge Library in Yorkshire.

Week Off

I was meant to do school events all week. Monday in Warrington. Tuesday in London. Wednesday in Birmingham. Thursday and Friday in Port Talbot.

But they've all cancelled: except one today in Birmingham. All because of snow.

The school today was great. From Kings Norton. They asked some brilliant questions.

There was one girl at the back who must have asked six questions about what it's like being a writer. She said she wants to be a writer. I think she will be.

So I'm glad I made it there.

Now I've got a week without an event. So I'm going to write. A lot.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Stockton Children's Book Prize

I'm up for the Stockton Children's Book prize next month. With four other authors. We have a day of events in Stockton, then there's a prize ceremony in the evening. It'll be the first time I've done something like that, so I'm really looking forward to it. Win or lose.

I went to my local library to get the other four books out. To see what they were like. Weigh up my chances. All four were in stock. Pretty good!

The first one I read - and still am - is Bearkeeper by Josh Lacey. And...

... it's brilliant.

A really good story about a boy who wants to be a fighter like his (missing) dad. But he doesn't quite know how to find his dad. He lives on the edge of a forest, but has to go to London. It's really well written, has great characters and makes you want to keep reading. Top marks.

It'll be good to go back to Stockton. My best mate lived there for years. Still does. I know parts of the town pretty well.

Snowed In

I've been snowed in for two days. Like lots of people.

I was meant to be in schools in Warrington (Monday) and London (Tuesday). But our valley ground to a halt.

The upside is that I've finished the sixth and last book (so far) of the Football Academy series, which is out in two months. It feels good. I think I should celebrate. Do something. I reckon I'll take my wife and daughter out for a meal. And a film. And bowling. Something like that.

I think I'm not easy to live with when I'm doing a book. I come downstairs in a dream and can barely have a conversation - after hours in the attic. So they deserve something better than that.

I went sledging yesterday with my wife, daughter and her friends. There's a decent hill near out house, which is not surprising seeing as we live in the Pennines. That was pretty good.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Off Side

Years ago I bought a book called Off Side by Manuel Vazquez Montalban. It's about an English centre forward playing in Spain - and threats made against him. I started reading it last night. It's great. Really dark and menacing. And written beautifully. More of a book for adults, though.

It's weird: all I seem to be reading is football books. I normally read much wider. What am I reading next? Gazza's autobiography.

A good weekend for football. Leeds won again. And - so far - we've held onto our superstar 19 year old, Fabian Delph. But for how long?

And what about Man City? It's interesting to see all these players come in. Tonight the Kaka transfer is in the balance. I'd be surprised if it went through. But then I never thought Robhino would go to Man City.

I actually like Man City. Whenever I meet their fans at the author events I do, they always talk a lot of sense. They know their football too. The ones I meet anyway.

If you want to read a good football story by a Man City fan, read Anthony McGowan's The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Face Off. Aimed at 7-11 year olds, it's funny and has a great ending.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

FIFA 09 update

I'm still playing too much FIFA 09 on my PSP. I did it all the way home on the train from London last night. That and reading a book about football in South Africa.

It's a good book. About how dozens of political prisoners created a football league in prison and played for years to try and cope with being away from their familes. It's called More Than a Game.

I'm on the third highest FIFA 09 level (i.e. one up from rubbish) and Leeds are about to secure promotion. I just need two wins out of four. I should do it. Then on to the Championship.

Arsenal Player

I had to face a penalty from an Arsenal player yesterday. Twice.

I was in Redbridge, which is a part of London. Ninety 10 year olds. Ten of them taking penalties. Then one lad tells me he plays for Arsenal.

He took two shots... And scored twice.

To be honest I didn't see either ball. I had some revenge on him, though. I was writing a scene in book 5 of my Football Academy series today. And Arsenal lost on penalties.

I've nearly finished the Football Academy series now. It starts in April with Boys United and Striking Out. Each book is about a different player at United, a Premier League under twelve team.

In Boys United Jake joins the team and finds it hard to fit in. Mostly because he's a City fan.

In Striking Out Yunis's dad wants him to give up playing for United. He thinks the football is interfering with Yunis' school work.

Books three and four are out in July. Followed by two more in the autumn.

But why am I facing penalties anyway?

When I go to schools I don't just talk about my books. I like to do a football quiz. Then a penalty shoot out. The winner gets a football trophy. It's more fun than me just talking about my books. The best bit is that I get tips about other books to read.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Mob Football

I did my first event of the year today. At Moorside Community College. It was great. Lots of Newcastle fans taking penalties at the school librarian, Miss Horth. She was very good, saving quite a few. She also looked after me really well.

It was useful in more ways than one to meet the pupils at Moorside. I told them about an idea I have for a book that is coming out next year. One of the girls said that she liked books with stories that have something of today and something from history in them. So I think I'm going to include something about mob football in the book.

I'm a bit obsessed with mob football. I read about it while writing a book for Franklin Watts last year. The book is about football, with lots of facts. It's called Go Turbo: Football and comes out in August.

Mob football was played in medieval times in England. A whole village would take on another village. The aim was to get the ball to the next town's market square. You could break legs, whatever... there were no rules.

I live in a small town on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. I think it'd be a good laugh to play the Lancashire town at mob football. Maybe one day. But without the leg breaking.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Spurs v Burnley

No offence to Spurs fans, but I'm backing Burnley tonight.

Burnley FC have been really good to me. Even though I live in Yorkshire - and support Leeds - Burnley are my nearest football club.

When I was researching my new series - Football Academy, which comes out on April 2nd - Burnley let me go and watch their under twelve side, talk to the players and the parents. And the coaches were great: they told me lots about how a professional football team's academy works.

Football Academy is about the under twelve side at a fictional Premier League club called United. Every book is about one of the boys, but all the players get a mention in each book. The first is called Boys United and is about Jake, who joins the team at the beginning of the season. He gets a bit of trouble from one of the other players. Mostly because he supports City, not United.

But back to the game...

Also, you have to support Burnley, as they are the underdog. They've seen off Arsenal and Chelsea already. All by a small town club with a lot of ambition.

Monday, 5 January 2009

PSP 1-0 Football Academy

I started the rewrites of Football Academy book 5 today. It needs a bit of work. It's about a boy and his dad. The dad used to be an England player: the boy plays for United's under twelve's. I read it through today and had a look at where I needed to make changes. It's only the last quarter that needs serious work...

... but the problem is I got a PSP for Christmas. With FIFA 09 on it.

I have been playing it a lot since Christmas and today found it hard to get back to writing. So I decided to write for an hour, then play one game. That worked well for the first couple of hours, then things deteriorated. I was on a cup run.

This afternoon Leeds United beat Hull City 11-3 in the League Cup Final. If only...

What else did I get for Christmas?

* a radio-controlled polystyrene aeroplane
* a blow-football game
* a book on how to be a good dad
* twelve pairs of black socks
* a lunar calendar
* ten quid and a wine cooler off my sister
* some carpet slippers off my wife
* a fair trade football
* a score draw at home to Leicester

No books, though. Apart from the one above.