Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

I hope you've had a good Christmas and are looking forward to 2012.

I am.

I have had a good year in 2011. This is a my favourite picture of 2011 that doesn't involve my family.

It is a small cairn I built on top of a mountain in the Arctic, when I was researching my book, Squad: White Fear in September. I built it for a friend of mine who had just lost his mum.

I have big plans for 2012.

They include author tours based around Fair Trade Fortnight (February/March), the launch of my new series (May), Euro 2012 (June) and the Olympic Football (August).

Also writing books about night running, spies, a haunted stadium, mermaids and... er... football.

I have dreams for Leeds United too, but after today's 4-1 reverse at Barnsley, I think I've got a better chance of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Race Result

I managed to get round the Hot Toddy course without my knee caving in, thrilled to do the six miles in under 48 minutes, four minutes faster than I did it last year. There is a picture of me struggling up one of the hills here.

Next year's target: 45'00.

Back to work tomorrow. Three weeks to finish Squad II: White Fear. Here is the cover for book one:

Monday, 26 December 2011

Hot Toddy 2011

I'm doing the Hot Toddy road race tomorrow. Six miles round where I live. Hilly. I did it in 52 minutes two years ago. Was injured last year. I'm aiming for 48 minutes tomorrow.

I'll post about it tomorrow.

Then the night running begins, starting on 1st January...

Monday, 19 December 2011


 This is Warland Reservoir, over Todmorden. If you ever do the Pennine Way you'll have to walk this way.

It's where I run. Once or twice a week. This is what it looked like yesterday. When I run up there I feel really happy.

I've got this idea for a book. A fell runner - a boy, age 15 - runs this way at night. He uses a head torch to light his way. And, one night, he sees something in the water...

I'm getting a head torch for Chirstmas. I can't wait to get to work. Research.

Anyway, this is my Christmas card to you.

Happy Christmas!

I hope you have a lovely time with your friends and family.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Stadiums or Stadia

I've been working at a lot of football stadiums recently. Delivering Premier League Reading Stars training days.

What is it about going to work in a stadium?

Even if it's only in a room on the outside of the stadium without a view of the pitch. Even if it's only the training ground. Either way, it's thrilling.

I like being in football stadiums.

I have taken groups of children to stadiums too. It always grips the children. Just like it grips me.

Today it was QPR. Last week it was Wolves and Blackburn.

Stadiums I have worked in: Man C, Man U, Spurs, Newcastle, Norwich, Everton, QPR, Wolves, Blackburn, Bolton, West Ham, Cardiff, Hull, LEEDS UNITED, Leicester, Barnsley, Derby, Pompey, Forest, Charlton, Huddersfield, Sheff U, Carlisle, Preston, Scunthorpe, Crewe, Northampton, Plymouth, Bradford.

Sometimes I even get to sleep at stadiums. Tonight I will be getting my head down at Leicester's Walker Stadium. Last month I slept at Carrow Road. Both have Holiday Inn hotels attached. At Norwich you even get a sheet of paper telling you not to gesture or shout abuse out of the hotel window.

That cuts down on the evening's entertainment.

I am going to be writing a story about an abandonded stadium soon. A ghost story. A group of boys camp inside a football stadium. Then night falls... I would love to research it in a real abandoned stadium.

By the way, don't try that at home! It is illegal to enter abandonded stadiums and camp in them.

And that goes for the adults as well as the children.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Real Lives

The Footballers' Battalion, WWI
I was at Wolves' Molineux stadium today, delivering a Premier League Reading Stars training day.

I was excited to read that the training was to take place in the Major Buckley Suite.

Major Frank Buckley (pictured in the team here) was a key figure in the WWI footballers' battalion, a whole battalion made up of footballers and football fans too.

The book I was working on earlier this year - and will be working on again in early 2012 - is about the battatlion and Buckley is a key character. As are Sid Wheelhouse and Fred Bullock (also on the picture). The book is called Over the Line.

All of my books to date have been made up. A boy who solves football crimes. A fictional Premier League football academy. A team who represent England at football, some of whom are spies.

But Over the Line is about real people and real events. A lot of it is fictionalised, but I try to keep it as close to what did - or would have - happened.

That's why it was so exciting finding the pictures and letters to do with Buckley at Wolves. And why - in the spring - it was striking to stand at Sid Wheelhouse's grave in France.

These events remind me that I must be careful because I am writing around real lives.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Using Euro 2012 to Promote Reading in Schools

It's the draw for the Euro 2012 finals this week. On Friday 2nd December, to be precise. Then we will know who England will be pitched against in Poland and Ukraine.

The tournament takes place from 8th June to 1st July.

During the World Cup in 2010 I worked with the National Literacy Trust, using the tournament to promote reading in schools and libraries. We had over 100,000 downloads of our materials.

As a result, we are doing the same for Euro 2012. This is what we have planned.

By the way, it's all free.

(1) a free downloadable episodic story based around the tournament, written by me the evening before publication every week day of Euro 2012;

(2) a free daily writing exercise based on the events and controversies of the tournament;

(3) regular blog and tweeting of the best reading in all formats about Euro 2012;

(4) more free toolkits of ideas and activities to inspire reading and writing using football tournaments.

In addition, I will be on tour for ten weeks in May, June and July 2012, offering my Football Reading Game in schools. Schools can book me by emailing

Finally, my new series, The Squad, launches kicks off just before the tournament. The first book - Black Op - is based at the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland.

This log sounds more like an advert. I'm sorry. But it's all good stuff and I wanted to give everyone a good early warning.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Premier League Reading Stars

Man U's Cliff Training Ground
You end up in some right places in my line of work.

I spent most of the week touring schools in Pembrokeshire, the bit of Wales directly above Cornwall.

Lovely people, the Welsh.

I had a glorious time. The library put me up in a brilliant wooden chalet by the sea. After I'd worked in the (wonderful) schools, I went running on the coastal path and wrote 7000 words (in 3 days) of The Squad 2.

I missed home, yes... but I got a lot done.

Today - from the sublime to the whatever - I ended up at Man U.

Sometimes you have to compromise.

I was there to deliver the second of ten training days for libraries and schools who are running a Premier League Reading Stars scheme in 2012.

More info about PLRS, a scheme run by the National Literacy Trust, here: PLRS.

It was a great day. Just like the training day we did on Monday in Newcastle. The funny thing was the place was packed with Leeds fans.

Speaking of Leeds United, at one of the schools in Wales a teacher brought me a cup of tea in a Man United mug.

I declined, of course.

One of his lovely colleagues saw what had happened and went away to create this for me.

Like I said: lovely people, the Welsh.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Year Six Spy Ring

I worked with my year six spy ring again today.

This is me and a teacher's attempt to work out ways we can get a class of children acting like spies, while also getting them into writing.

Today was about creating a narrative...

... and interpreting the raw material provided by a set of photos taken of a murder.

Part one. The children and I worked through a page from The Simpson's magazine (with the words whited out) to try and work out what was hapenning in the story. This went well. They were all familiar - and therefore comfortable - with The Simpsons and wanted to understand what Bart, Lisa and Santa's Little Helper were up to.

This was a warm up for the real spy work.

Part two. We gave the children six photos (see three of them above) of a scene involving four people.

1. A man and a woman have a drink together.
2. While the man is distracted, the woman slips a poison into his drink.
3. The man drinks.
4. The man collapses.
5. The man falls on the floor - dead.
6. The woman pours the remaining drink out of the glass.

The children had to work out the order of the pictures, working out the whats, whens and hows, then write a two-sentence narrative to explain what was going on. They wrote it in the form of a spy's report. Just the same as writing a story.

This worked well too. Linking the pictures and working out the questions arising gave them  good idea of how I put my stories together - expect they did a better job than me.

Part three. This is unrelated to the story, but still about spying.

We took the children outside and they practiced 'live drops', where one person passes a bag or newspaper onto another person, swapping an identical item.

This, of course, is how spies around the world pass information to each other...

The plan is to do spy/writing exercises. To see what works. And what doesn't. Then to produce a toolkit of how to form your own Year Six Spy Ring.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

England in Krakow

I've been lucky.

In March I went to Krakow to research my forthcoming football spy book, Squad: Black Op.

The idea is that a group of five children - using the cover of being part of an England youth football team - are sent to spy on and stop a former KGB agent from attacking the England team.

In Krakow.

I chose Krakow as a guess. It might be the kind of place England would base themselves for EURO 2012, as it is quite near the border of the two host countries, Poland and Ukraine.

It has just been announced that England are basing themselves in...

... Krakow!

If you're heading to Poland for EURO 2012, I can recommend the city. It is beautiful and friendly.

Listen out for the trumpeter who plays every fifteen minutes from the church above. That trumpet call is central to the plot of my story - and has a great story of its own.

Squad: Black Op is out in May 2012, published by Puffin Books.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Federation of Children's Book Groups

This is the Pick of the Year 2012 list published by the Federation of Children's Book Groups (FCBG).

I'm really pleased to say that my book - Own Goal - is on the Highly Recommended list. Things like that make me feel like I'm doing a decent job as a writer.

I'm also pleased because I think a lot of anything to do with the FCBG.

I've spent a lot of time doing events with the FCBG. All over the UK. Last week I was in Norfolk and Suffolk with teachers, librarians and booksellers from the FCBG.

In the spring I went to their conference and met other authors, parents and general childrens' book lovers too.

I learned loads just by talking to all these people about their passion for books and ways of encouraging children to read books.

Anthony Horowitz said 'The Federation of Children's Book Groups, has, in its own quiet, single-minded way, done more for reading than almost anyone else.' That's a hell of a recommendation.

If you want to know more about the FCBG:

And the award: Red House Book Award

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


50 Cent's new book, Playground
 I opened a playground in Aldborough, Norfolk, today.

In the past I have opened two school libraries, but never a playground.

The best bit about opening the playground was watching the children playing there. Before and after I opened it.

I love taking my daughter to playgrounds. She climbs, spins, swings, jumps and - sometimes - falls. I watch on, trying not to tell her to be careful too many times.

Conicidentally, I am reading a book called Playground. It's by 50 Cent. Yes him.

It's about a boy who commits an act of pretty unplesant violence in the playground. The story is told through a series of sessions he has with a counseller following the attack. Great start.

I'm not finished yet, but I am slowly forming an opinion on the book. And also on the issue of whether it is really good or annoying that celebrities in other fields write children's books.

More to follow...

Friday, 4 November 2011

Fairtrade Fortnight Events

Me in Ghana, meeting school kids.
I taught them several Leeds United songs.
I am doing a fortnight of events to mark 2012's Fairtrade Fortnight.

The tour runs from 27th February to March 10th.

I'll be working with Divine Chocolate, who very kindly helped me visit Ghanaian cocoa bean farms in 2009.

The trip helped me to write my book, Off Side, which is about a Ghanaian boy called Kofi, who has a chance to play football in Europe and whose family runs a cocoa bean farm.

I'll be talking about my trip during the events and about how I have seen that our buying of fairtrade products makes a huge difference in farmers' lives. I'll also be handing out free Dubble Bars!

There is more information about the tour here. Please do get in touch if you want more information.

Rugby Union Six Nations 2012

I'm planning to do more Rugby Reading Games in 2012.

I had a great time running the events during the Rugby World Cup, trying to encourage children to read through their love of Rugby Union.

The Six Nations takes place from February 4th to March 17th, so I'll be offering events then.

There is more information on my website here. You can also read quotes from the schools where I've run the game already.

These are the 2.3 metre high rugby posts that I use when I do the event.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Dyslexia Awareness Week

I was in Edinburgh earlier this week, touring schools and libraries with the wonderful Barrington Stoke publishing house, who publish books that are accessible to dyslexic readers.

Barrington Stoke publish my book, Scrum!

I am really proud to be published by them, because I have met so many teachers and librarians and children who think the world of them and their books.

It's Dyslexia Awareness Week this week and - as if by magic - I got my first email from a reader telling me what they thought about Scrum!

Dear Tom
I have read up to page 15 of your book scrum and I am totally loving it right now. I got this book at 6.30 tonight and I've only put it down to email you.
S, age 9

Getting emails from readers is one of the best things about being a writer. To know that, at this moment, someone is sitting there, somewhere, reading one of my books and liking it, is a great feeling.

This week we are more aware than ever that some children struggle to read. But we should also be aware that, because of publishers like Barrington Stoke, if these children find the right books, they can start to build the confidence and ability to become readers.

There's a great round up of Barrington Stoke's latest books here, published by the Daily Telegraph today.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Dark Matter

I've just got to say something about this book. Again.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver is an ourstanding book. The perfect novel to borrow or buy at Halloween. Or to complement the BBC's current Frozen Planet series.

It is the story of a group of young men who travel to Svalbard in the upper Arctic to carry out a survey. Into the Polar Night of twenty-four hours darkness. 1937.

If you want to know what the light - and darkness - is like in the upper Arctic, this is the book for you.

The characters, setting, historical period and plot blend together to create a superb read.

Dark Matter is also a ghost story. A chilling unnerving beautiful ghost story.

I've just read it for the second time - and, really, feel like reading it again right now.

(By the way: the paperback - just out - is white, not like this cover for the hardback.)

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Fell Running

I am really into my running at the moment.

I'm not claiming to be a good runner. I'm not. I'm a slow runner. But I love it all the same.

This is the gate I go through when I run on the fells.

It's a bit like one of those magic entrances in children's fiction. C S Lewis' wardrobe. Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole. Enid Blyton's tree.

When I am through that gate I feel free and happy and empty and absolutely knackered.

Fell running is about running in the hills. Sometimes on tracks. Sometimes through wild grass. Sometimes knee deep through mud and bog. For some people it is about speed. But not for me.

I've got this route I do. Up from the Shepherd's Rest pub above Todmorden, into the Pennines past Gaddings Dam, all the way round Warland Reservoir and back to the pub. Six miles exactly. An ascent of about 400 feet.

Today I did it for the first time under and hour. It felt good. Really good.

But I don't just do it to be faster. I like to see how the tops change as the seasons change. In January the paths became rivers of ice. In July they were hard-packed and dusty. One day a grassy area will be bouncy and easy going: the next it will suck your feet deep into the hillside. You get different birds (like curlews and geese) and animals (like deer) up there. Occassionally even humans.

Two days ago I miscalculated the light and had to walk the last two miles because it went very dark. It was so beautiful up there.

One day I'll enter a proper fell race. One day.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Russians are coming

I've been tracking who is reading my blog. You can find out how many people have been looking at it and where they're from.

This week so far:

207 from the UK
23 from Holland
21 from Ireland


48 from Russia

I understand the Ireland ones. I spent Monday to Wednesday there working with 500 kids. A lovely time. Such nice kids - and adults.

But Russia?

My book Dead Ball is about Danny Harte taking on a Russian billionnaire who is intent on murdering England footballers. I wrote a follow up story to that, where the billionnaire actually comes after me for writing that book. (You can read it all for free here.)

Recently two Russian boys - who I met in schools - asked me why I cast Russians as baddies. It was a good question. I said I'd cast baddies as English, Italian, South African, Ukrainian and others, but that Russians were sort of traditional baddies and all the Cold War history made for interesting stories.

They weren't impressed.

So I told them the real reason. I set my books in countries I want to visit. The baddies necessaily have to come from those countries. So, in fact, it is a compliment to Russians that I wrote about - and visited - their country.
They still weren't impressed.

So... in my next book everyone thinks the Russians are the baddies, whereas in fact it's the...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


In the book I'm writing there are five children, all of them without parents. This makes it easier for me to have them travel around the world, putting their lives in danger, without having to say where they are to their mums and dads.

It's an easy device.

In the Foul Play series, my football detective, Danny Harte, had a very close relationship with his dad. He phoned home all the time. Part of his problem was trying to be a detective without lying to his dad about where he was.

That was not so easy. It was hard to write about a boy solving crimes across the world, who also had to stay in touch and not lie.

But family is really important to me. I've written books about parenthood (such as Four Fathers, published by Route). I wanted it there. Parent-child relationships are important in my Football Academy series too. Central to it.

That's why it's so odd that I am writing about five orphans now.

Except something is happening. They're starting to pine for family life. One of them has had contact from an uncle and is considering leaving the world of international espionage to go back to family life and love.

I've not planned it, but now all the children are wondering if they would be better off being loved in a family as opposed to than spying. But before they decice that they have to stop World War Three.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Snow Drops by A D Miller

I'm reading this book. It is wonderful. There's a great plot, magnificent characters and an underlying sense of impending dooooooom.

But the best thing about Snow Drops is its sense of place.

It is set in Moscow and describes the streets, clubs, parks, underground and people of the city wonderfully. The author lived there for several years and it shows. He gets the place perfectly, without resorting to cliches.

Sense of place is important to me. I like to write books set abroad. I've set them in Moscow, Accra, Milan, Krakow and Tromso. I try to go to the places I write about. Writing about new places keeps my writing sharp. I hope.

Miller's book has helped remind me that I need to keep trying to do that. And to not let up.

County Meath Children's Book Festival

Me and next to the pink palace feature in Ashbourne Library
 I was in Ireland today, invited to take part in County Meath's Children's Book Festival. And it was fantastic.

I did my Football Reading Game in Navan and Ashbourne libraries. Both superb libraries with excellent staff.

But the hightlight was the children. They were happy, relaxed, confident and lovely. We talked about newspapers, magazines and books to do with football.

There were even Leeds fans, which is always good to see!

The Fesitval is an annual event that tries to reach most of the 100+ schools in the county.

Festival poster

Monday, 24 October 2011

On Deck

I am at the point in the book I'm writing where Lily and Kester (my spy footballers) climb aboard the Norweigian coastal boat, the Hurtigruten, and head north to extreme peril.

This is me on the Hurtigruten. Not a great photo, but I took it at arm's length.

The trip on the Hurtigruten has given me so many ideas. When you've seen vast glaciers hanging over the fjords in a midnight half-light (and felt freaked out by it) it helps you describe a place and a feeling of fear. That's the plan, anyway.

I am really looking forward to these scenes. I want to push myself to get it right, to make the reader feel anxiety, awe and anger at what goes on in the story. It's a big thing to ask of myself. But I've got a half chance because of that trip.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Rugby World Cup tour - the end

I finish my Rugby World Cup tour tomorrow.

And it's been a real joy.

I've talked to children from 31 schools (about 5000 kids in total) and at 5 literature festivals, using the interest in the Rugby World Cup to encourage children to share ideas about reading in newspapers, books, magazines and online.

From North Yorkshire to Devon and from west Wales to Norfolk.

You might be wondering what today's image is.

As I have gone from school to school, day on day, week on week, I have had to wear a freshly laundered England top for each event. So every night I have also had to wash my top in the nation's B&B sinks, then found creative ways to dry it. I am an expert now.

So thanks thanks to the lovely schools from up north to down south, to the librarians, the booksellers, the festival orgainsers and the teachers. Thanks too to Barrington Stoke, the wonderful publisher of Scrum! and thanks too to my England top.

Scrum! is available in shops now too. Good news.

Enough of rugby. Until the six nations tournament in February and March...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Writing about Norway

I've started writing Squad 2. I'm not sure of the book's title yet, but it's the one set in Norway.

I went to Norway last month to research mountains, glaciers, ships and other Arctic things. It was wonderful. I made notes, interviewed people, took photos and worked out what the story could be about.

Now I am turning all that into a story.

The book starts with the five children of The Squad meeting the British Prime Minister. He needs their help. he knows that only these five children can stop WW3 breaking out.

I like to get my settings right. That is why I spend large proportions of my advances on researching the places where my stories take place. Already I feel like the trip to Norway is paying off. Not just descriptions of mountains and fjords and a sky that never quite went dark: but how those things made me feel.

Being alone on the deck of a ship at the top of the world at 2 a.m. in a weird half-light that made every mountain and town seem like a ghost of a mountain or a town, actually made me feel horribly lonely and uneasy, not exhilarated.

These are the things I want to capture in the book. Real feelings, not cliches.

However, the kids in Squad 2 will have more scope to feel lonely and uneasy in the Norwegian wild, as they wull be being chased by a crazed American who likes hunting people, amongst other things.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Tom Palmer disruption

In one of the many schools I have been in in the last month, there was a list on the noticeboard.
It was a lovely school with great staff and kids, but this interpretation of my visit tickled me.

On the Road

I have been working flat out for the past few weeks, pretty much every week day in a school and at least one day every weekend at a festival.

I've been doing the Rugby Reading Game mostly. To celebrate the Rugby Union World Cup. The idea is to encourage rugby-loving kids to read about the game in newspapers, magazines, online and in books.

This is the portable rugby posts that I take with me. Kids have to convert questions they get right in my quiz.

But all that's coming to an end now. England were out, now Wales are too.

I've really enjoyed it, though and still have a festival and a few schools next week.

Now it is back to football, my first love. The Football Reading Game will be on the road soon. Then maybe some more rugby in February and March 2012, for the Six Nations.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Social Notworking

I've stopped doing Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.

With regret.

The reason is it was becoming unsafe to be on there. There are dark forces at work, mark my words.

So instead of microblogging I am going to blog here more often.

Sadly, no one will read it because most of the traffic to the blog comes from those three sources.

Here's a nice picture THAT I TOOK to illustrate my blog.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

EURO 2012

Forget the fact that Wayne Rooney got sent off and England only drew in Montenegro.

England have qualified for EURO 2012.


I am particularly pleased. My May 2012 book - Squad: Black Op - has England arriving in Poland for EURO 2012. If England had failed I would have had a monstrous rewrite on my hands.

Now I can can look forward to a busy May and June promoting reading and writing through football.

This is what I am planning:

* a tour of schools, libraries, festivals and bookshops to launch the Squad series - using my FOOTBALL READING GAME to get children talking about what they like to read, be it newspapers, magazines, books or websites. They'll also get to meet an author and hear lots of tips on how to write.

* a free daily story for classroom reading, written every day so it uses some of the real events happening in the tournament

* a free daily writing exercise based on what is happening in EURO 2012 for schools

* a free toolkit of activities, games, display ideas and more so that schools and libraries can use the tournament to engae children with reading and writing

The resources above will be availble from March 2012. I am taking bookings for May and June events in schools now. You can email for more information.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

School Spy Ring

I'm not going to tell you the name of the school, but somewhere in England a new spy ring has been born.

We launched it today.

The idea is that spies and writers are the same. Sort of.

I am working with twelve children and a teacher. Let's call the teacher Agent B.

We want to give the children a boost in their reading and writing before they go to high school next year. I am going to go into the school six times over the coming academic year. Agent B will be running sessions with the kids every other week in the meantime.

These are some of the things we did today:

* we explained the idea of a spy ring to the children - and they added their own ideas drawn from books, films and video games

* we all read and filled in a survey from a spy book, telling the children what kind of spying they are best suited for

* they created a cover identity - a false name and various details about a ficitonal life (this being exactly the same process that I use to create characters in my books) - we interrogated them all as their cover characters and they all passed with flying colours

* they read a text we had found in a spy book for kids about how to perform a 'dead drop' (i.e. places that I can leave future missions for them to do with Agent B)

* pretending we were doing a litter pick, we did a recce of the school grounds to find a perfect place for spy 'dead drops' - see above

* they helped me with ideas for the spy book I am writing at the moment (Squad, book 2) - and came up with some great ideas too! They will help me throughout the writing of the book.

The overall idea is to get them enjoying reading and writing through the excitement of spying. I will 'dead drop' missions for them every two weeks, giving them reading and writing exercises, but also practical exercises to do with observation and recording information.

There is another end to this. Term one is about training. Term two, preparing for a mission. Term three, the mission, where we go out and do a real observation at a famous site that I am not at liberty to inform you about. Not yet.

The day was very exciting. The kids wrote and read and talked and thought with 100% effort and pleasure. Myself and Agent B had a ball.

I can't wait to perform my first dead drop.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Arctic Adventure: Day One

This is a blog of my trip to Tromso and Hammerfest a week ago. An entry a day, as I toured northern Norway to research settings and storylines for my next novel.

I have wanted to go to Tromso for years. It appeals to me because it's the most northern city in the world. It's almost at the top of Norway, with nothing but water and ice before you hit the North Pole.

For some reason that idea has obsessed me. To go somewhere like that. The only way that is going to happen is if I set a book there.

The story - probably called WHITE FEAR - is about five children who are trying to prevent WW3 breaking out. As the ice melts in the Arctic Circle, more oil, gas and other resources are made accessible - and several countries want to lay a claim. It could easily be a source of enormous tension within years.

That's the backdrop. The story will consist of the children listening in, following, chasing, being chased and - in the darkest scene - being hunted like animals across the mountains around Tromso.

That's why I went up to the mountains today. It was wonderful.

First, I took a cable car, then hiked into the mountains behind. I wasn't sure what I was looking for. That's part of the reason for going: to get ideas, to see what might work and what might not. It's the easiest and most exciting part of writing a book. Anything can happen.

I found:

* a mountain refuge hut - perfect for the children to hide in when hit by a blizzard and now I know exactly what they look like and how they could save the children's lives

* an Arctic hare the size of a goat - something for them to hunt, as they may be up there some time

* spectacular views of fjords, mountains, glaciers and how they made me feel - to help with the description

* a plane coming into the airport, so low that I was above it and could see the pilot's face - ideas for a military or search flight in the story

* the cable car itself and how it rocked in the wind - that just has to be involved, the peril will be fantastic, hanging on a wire in a metal box in a howling gale

But, more than anything, it was the feel of a place that I was after. How it felt to be up there for four hours seeing no other person. The power of the wind and how it pushed me around. The rocks underfoot. Then the bare soil stripped of life, except for a few dead roots. The feelings of loneliness, paranoia, excitement and heightened alertness.

I like setting books in new and distant places. I have set books in Ghana and Moscow in the past and like to think I caught the feel of the places. I went to Ghana and Moscow too. They're both such different places to England and they would have been weaker books had I not visited them. I got details I could include, but, equally importantly, I left things out that I might have included. Errors. Cliches. Inaccuracies.

That's why I went to Tromso.

Tomorrow, I'm going to all the museums in Tromso, devoted to explorers like Nansen and Amundsen. I want to work in an exploration dimension to the book, but I'm not sure what. The museums will help me.

Then, that evening, I will head off on a boat to the very northern tip of Norway.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Engage is about Matt Hampson, an emerging rugby union player in 2005.

Hampson was in the Leicester Tigers first team squad and was playing regularly for England U21s, but in March 2005 he had an accident in training when a scrum collapsed. He broke his neck and was paralysed from the neck down.

The book is a collaboration between Hampson and the much-respected sports writer, Paul Kimmage.

Engage tells you about Hampson's life in rugby, the day of the accident and since the accident, giving you an insight into what it was like physically and mentally for Hampson to go through and come to terms with such a terrible event.

It is a distressing read in a lot of ways. You get to understand how Hampson feels, but also how his mum and dad are coping with it. This is tough to read. When you see the player through the eyes of the people he loves and who love him, the story becomes much more poignant.

But, as well as a harrowing read, it is an uplifting read. Hampson is a strong man. He learns to cope with what is happening to him. He draws inspiration from people he meets along the way. He grows.

This is as much a book about rugby as his accident. You get to see what rugby players are like on the pitch, in the dressing room and out and about. I found that fascinating. You meet some huge names from the game.

For me, Engage is like a novel. There is a form of novel in Germany called the Bildungsroman. It is about how a young person grows from being a young man into becoming an adult and how they meet people along the way that help them to develop into what they are going to become.

Engage does that. Hampson has ongoing relationships with people from England legend Martin Johnson, to other patients in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and his parents. They all grow and change together in this compelling story.

It also reads like a novel in that it is so well written. None of that heavy biography style that so often makes amazing lives seem tedious. This is sharp, lively and - at times - a bit experimental. There are dream scenes, courtroom dialogue and other devices used, for instance.

I may have made Engage sound a bit fancy. It's not. It's blunt and tough and deeply moving.

Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson was published by Simon & Schuster in August 2011.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


Two more books to review in the run up to the Rugby World Cup.

Just out is Lawrence Dallaglio's World Cup Rugby Tales (Simon & Schuster).

The book is full of Rugby World Cup stories that Dallaglio has gathered, after deciding to ask dozens of players what their favourite World Cup story or experience was on or off the pitch.

It is a great way of telling the story of the tournament through the eyes of the game's greats. Such as Jonathan Davies, Michael Lynagh, Will Caling, Gavin Hastings and many more. You get the great games, the famous moments, plus antics off the pitch.

It's funny, informative and - if you want an even better reason to buy this book than to be entertained - all the sales will help raise money for a charity Dallaglio supports that looks out for physically disadvantaged children: Wooden Spoon.

Another book is Rugby Union: the Men Who Make the Game by Ian Smith (Book Guild). It is an excellent set of chapters about great rugby players at club and country level. Subject players include Toby Flood, Nick Easter, Steve Borthwick and there's a foreword by Rob Andrew, no less.

I like the way this book is written. You get career highlights about the players chosen, but also you find out more about them personally. Books like this can be dull and two dimensional, but this is nothing lie that.


There are some great Rugby Union magazines about. The two main ones that I could find on the news stands are Rugby World and The Rugby Paper.
They are very different, but both excellent in their own right.

Rugby World (September 2011, £4.10) is your classic glossy, thick, well-put-together monthly. Like FourFourTwo or Runners' World in other sports. It is ful of well-written articles and interviews and indteresting features. This World Cup special features interviews with Ben Foden and an excellent pullout about England's pool in the World Cup.

The Rugby Paper (£1.50) is more like a newspaper. In fact, that's what it is. It has match reports from England down to some of the lower leagues. Very up-to-the-minute opinion pieces by writers like Jeff Probyn, Peter Jackson and Matt Emery. All about rugby with no other sports to get in the way. This is edition (August 28th 2011) has a pull out guide to the Aviva Premiership too. It made me wonder why there wasn't something like this for football.

The third featured here is Sir Clive Woodward's Guide to the World Cup (£2.95). This is an interesting combination of a basic run down of all the teams and the players likely to grab the headlines, plus three or four essays by Sir Clive about captaincy, motivation and sports psychology. I found it really interesting and can see why he is in demand as a speaker across business as well as sport. A good price for a glossy magazine.

In the next week you'll be able to pick up the October 2011 RUGBY WORLD and this week's THE RUGBY PAPER, as well as the THE RUGBY PAPER'S Essential World Cup Guide, so, if you're skint, stay out of newsagents.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


Scott Quinnell's book - The Hardest Test - is my favourite rugby book.

What I love about it is that it is a short, but jam-packed, story about a rugby player's career. From being a youth player to Welsh international and British Lion.

In clear, readable prose you find out what that felt like for Quinnell.

But there is another dimension to the story. The player's battle with dyslexia.

That is what I enjoyed most. Quinnellis very honest about how he struggled at school and what impact that had on his life and how he felt about himself.

I have read a lot of sport players' books and a lot of them are just a list of great games a player has played in and his opinions on people he had met in the sport. The Hardest Test is different because you find more out about the man. That's down to his honesty.

When I was writing one of my Football Academy books - Reading the Game - I found this book very useful. It helped me understand how a boy at school who was struggling with reading might feel. And how he might try to conceal his problems with other behaviour. I work in a lot of schools and I meet a lot of boys who struggle with reading in the same way. I always tell them about this book.

The Hardest Test by Scott Quinnell is £1.99 and published by Accent Press.

Monday, 29 August 2011


This book is brilliant for rugby union lovers.

Football has always been a big part of my life. Like millions of us, I can mark my life's history by what was happening in the world of football. In fact, if I want to remember a year, that's often what I resort to.

I remember that my mum died in 1992 when Leeds United had just become champions.

I know Leeds lost 5-1 to Portsmouth the day after my daughter was born.

The day I met my wife Leeds won 3-1 at Liverpool.

It was the photos in this book that made me realise rugby may have a similar role to play. Sometimes when you look at an image it takes you back. This book did that.

Bill Beaumont shaking hands with JPR Williams was the main one. As soon as I saw it, there I was in my grandad's flat in North Yorkshire, watching the Five Nations. We watched loads of live sport together. But he died twenty years ago and I forget him for weeks at a time. This book brought him back.

The face of Gareth Edwards lining up to play England in that amazing Welsh team.

Oh yes, and Martin Johnson lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. I watched that with my daughter - aged two weeks - on my knee. She was born a month early and only opened her eyes for twenty minutes each day for the first month. She opened her eyes for that.

But the pictures throughout this book are amazing. A huge amount of research and thought has been put into the pictures. And it pays off.

The text is good too. It focuses on key players and the last six decades, with particular emphasis on the changes in the game around professionalism. I learned a lot about rugby union that I never knew. On a par with Geoffrey Moorhouse's magnificent history of Rugby League.

I can't think of a better Christmas present than this book for a rugby union fan - apart from their team winning the World Cup.

International Rugby Union by Peter Bills is published by Carlton and its list price is £25, but I expect it'll be in bookshop and online offers in September.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

WORLD CUP RUGBY BOOK REVIEWS 2: Rugby Stories for Children

There are three rugby stories for children that I can find - and I am the only one in the world who has read all three. Probably. The main reason for that is that I wrote the one called Scrum! and it is not out for another month, so no-one has read it yet.

I read The Rugby Zombies by Dan Anthony (Pont £5.99) after I saw a copy in Swansea Library. It's about a boy called Arwel and his two friends, who, daring each other in the woods, come across a group of zombies of former rugby players. There is horror (in the woods), sport (on the pitch) and friendship (on the back streets of the town where the boys live). It's got a bit of everything, including it's a nice short- to medium-length.

The Rugby Zombies is published by an independent publisher in Wales, but would be great for all fans of rugby, including rugby league.

It is a long time since I read The Flea Thing by Brian Falkner (Walker Books, £5.99). It was a library book, so I don't have it any more. But I can remember thinking it was really good. This is what I remember.

It's about a boy who has extraordinary pace on the rugby field. When he gets the ball he can really fly down the wing and he goes from being an ordinary player to a child star in a professional team. But it also about the boy and his dad and his friends and who they relate to each other as he becomes successsful.

It is set in new Zealand and is - if I remember right - about Rugby League, not Union. Either way, it's excellent. Welll written. Great story. Thoroughly recommended.

My book is called Scrum! (Barrington Stoke £5.99). It is about Rugby League and Union.

Steven Webb is a Rugby League player who lives in northern England with his mum. His dad, who lives nearby, has always wanted him to play Rugby League. But his mum meets a new man and moves Steven to Northamptonshire, where they only play Union.

Steven now has three dilemmas: Rugby League or Union, Dad or Step Dad, north v south.

Friday, 26 August 2011

RUGBY WORLD CUP book review # 1

This is the first of a series of rugby book reviews in the run-up to Rugby World Cup 2011, which runs from 9th September to 23rd October.

The Official Guide to RWC 2011 is very good. It's just what you need on the table by your armchair as you settle down to watch 48 games of rugby union over 45 days.

Like most official guides it contains the following sections, written in clear and concise English:

* a bit about New Zealand (in case you can actually afford to go an see the tournament)

* the road to the World Cup - how teams qualified

* a run down on all the teams, in pool order
(pools are the groups the teams are in during the early stages of the tournament)

* some great rugby world cup moments

* the possible star players

* a double page spread on each of the six tournaments since the first in 1987

* some frankly fascinating stats and facts for you to run through during the ad breaks, as the whole tournament is on ITV

That's what's in it. But what is it like?

It's not long-winded, but it has lots of interesting information.

The mix of text and pictures is well done and looks exciting.

It can be read as a need-to-know reference book or as a linear read.

It includes some unforgettable moments, including Mandela handing the Springbok captain the trophy in 1995 and Johhny Wilkinson's 2003 drop goal.

And... and it has a score chart to fill in!

That's it. It's very good. Full stop.

The Official Guide to the 2011 Rugby World Cup is published by Carlton Books.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Adults should read Mal Peet

I read Anthony Clavane's Guardian Top Ten of Football Fiction this morning.

He includes A Kestel for a Knave, Goalkeepers are Different, Football Factory and others. Even the mighty
B S Johnson. Some great books.

But let's be honest: there's not a lot of decent football fiction around now - and there never has been.

That's why Anthony's list is a bit thin. If he had to do a second XI list, he'd be struggling.

The Damned United is the only stand out well-known novel about the beautiful game in recent years.

Or is it?

Now, don't get me wrong. I like Anthony. We're friends. We share a lot: football team (Leeds United), literary agent, a love of Tony Harrison's poems. His book - Promised Land - is a good read.

But what about children's books? Or Young Adult fiction?

This is not me trying to get my books in Anthony's list. His is clearly a list for adults. And I'm not the one to say mine would even get on a kids' top ten. There are plenty of great writers in the genre.

But I think Mal Peet's three football books - Keeper, Penalty and Exposure - are better than all the books on Anthony's list.

They are beautifully written, complex, and deeply moving. They include themes such as deforestation, ghosts, magic and celebrity meglomanic. And they are about football.

But not football in the sense of just kicking a ball around. They are about how players cope with fame, about what journalists have to do to get a story, about how some players can be very vulnerable and how fans fit into the picture. They chart the human condition superbly.

I think it is to do with classification. If a book is called a children's book or a Young Adult book, most adults would not consider it.

If you know an adult football fan, get them Keeper or Exposure. Football fiction at its best.

Anthony Clavane's list of ten great football fictions

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


I am working with Wrexham Football Club in the autumn on a scheme that will reach 360 chldren from 12 schools.

I have worked on sports literacy schemes for over a decade, most notbaly on the Premier League Reading Stars scheme for the last eight years. I also have a lot of free resources about football and literacy available on my website.

But Wrexham is new for me. It's a term-long scheme that will reach each of the children seven times.

Here is what we're going to do.


Over two days in September, each school will come to Wrexham's Racecourse Ground. They will spend a half day at the stadium, enjoying three sessions:

* taking part in my Football Reading Game, a literacy quiz that features a penalty shoot out
* a training session with Wrexham FC coaches
* a tour of the Racecourse Ground and talk about its history

The children will come in on buses, all covered by the project.


I have devised a five-part course of sessions the children can do back at their schools in October and November. The five sessions are:

* reading football in newspapers and writing their own articles
* looking at biograhies of football players and creating their own of their favourite player
* a reading group looking at one of my books, or one of the free stories I have on my website
* a trip to Wrexham Library to meet librarians and do the Football Reading Library Treasure Hunt (coaches paid for by the scheme)
* creating posters and activities to encourage the children taking part to enthuse other children at the school to read and write about football


A session for all twelve schools with a panel of football reading experts, including:

* a Wrexham AFC player
* a well known Wrexham related journalist
* a football story author (me again)

We are doing this because we want to find ways of encouraging football fans to become excited about reading around the game. Also, with the hope that they become more involved with their local club in a place that is dangerously close to Manchester and Liverpool; and at a time that Wrexham FC is in a perilous state.

The money for the scheme has come from a bid Wrexham FC applied for to run educational schemes.

All the free resourcues mentioned above can be found on my website.

Family Reading at its Best

I had a message from a football fan called Austin this week.

He'd read my blog about using football to encourage children to read.

This is what three generations of his family do every week.

(The photo is not of Austin, but one I took off the internet.)

"Every Saturday morning I sit down with my son and we read the football section in the newspaper. We then attempt to predict the results of the weekend's games in the Premier League. A correct score is worth 5 points, a correct result 3 points.

"Grandad sends us his predictions as well.

"We put £1 in the pot each week. (I put my son's in.) And we keep a spreadsheet of the results and points.

"The winner is the one with the most points at the end of the season."

I thought it sounded brilliant, so I wanted to share it.

For your information: Austin's son is in the lead so far.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


This is the tenth and final blog about using the excitement around the new football season to encourage children to read.

The last tip is to start watching the new weekly show: THE FOOTBALL READING SHOW.

The first one is a bit shaky, but in future weeks I'll take you on a tour of reading in bookshops, libraries and football stadia, as well as introducing you to footballers, authors and lots of readers.

Thanks for reading these blogs and for the nice responses.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


I did an event with Waterstone's in Altrincham today: to mark the start of the new Premier League football season.

We wanted to get football-loving families into the bookshop to see all the fantastic football books for kids - and adults.

We set up a goal outside the bookshop, to the left of the front door. Then we put an eager bookseller in goal.

Then we invited passing children to take five penalties. The child who scored most in one hour won a football trophy. In fact, it was two children, as we had under-ten and ten-plus categories.

There was a queue of families for the whole hour.

When the kids had taken penalties, I handed out promotional red and yellow cards and told the about my books. Meanwhile two members of staff told families about the other sports books available in store.

Most of the families went into the bookshop and lots of them bought copies of my book.

Including books sold because of the in-store and window displays, the event led to sales of at least 30 books. The signed copies I left will probably sell well too.

Thanks to Altrincham Waterstone's for a great morning.

While there I made a film about football books in the shop. If it's a decent quality it'll be on YouTube soon.

Friday, 12 August 2011


This is the ninth in a series of ten blogs about things you can do with children, both to celebrate the new football season and to encourage them to read for pleasure and meaning.

It's the first day of the Premier League. Now, at last, all football is back in our hearts, on our screens and in the newspapers.

Saturday newspapers are the best. They might not have match reports in, but they will have:

* match previews for all the games

* predictions for the season that could be way off the mark or spot on

* news about players agitating to leave football clubs

* true transfer stories - Fabregas, for instance

* columns by ex-footballers

* lists

* charts

* photos

* and lots of lies

If you can afford to go out and buy two or three newspapers and leave them around the house, they'll be a great way of getting children into reading before the big kick off.

If not, try your library, where most have free newspapers for all to read.

Or, go online, where you can read most newspapers articles and speculation for free.

Have a good day and a great season. I hope your team does well... unless you're playing Leeds United, in which case - no offence - but I hope you lose.


This is the eighth of ten blogs about finding ways to encourage children to read, using the power of football. All to celebrate the new football season. Hurray!

We all do it.

Who do you think is going to win the match today?

Who's going to score for this team or that team?

Which Premier League manager is going to get sacked first?

Children enjoy doing it as much as adults. Predictions! And that makes it a powerful tool to encourage them to read more.

Here's how?

Why not make a list of ten things you and a child would like to predict - such as the results or scores or matches, goalscorers, attendances, sending offs? Decide together what you are going to predict. Every correct prediction gains the person who made it one point.

Then suggest that everyone taking part has a look on the internet or in newspapers to help them make their choices.

Reading about the game can help hugely. You can find out the form of the teams in question, who is injured and other factors.

The BBC football website is good for this. They do a preview on each game, helping you work out who is playing and who is not and what teams' recent form is.

Also, club websites can be helpful to give you an idea of which team is feeling the more confident.

Maybe offer a prize or incentive if your child beats you. maybe involve other family members, friends or children.

Worth a try.

Rugby World Cup

There is less than a month to go until the Rugby World Cup kicks off. And I, like millions, am really looking forward to it.

I watched the 2003 final in the attic of our house, with my daughter on my knee. She was two weeks old and weighed less than a rugby ball at the time. I can't remember how I celebrated that winning kick, but I imagine I was quite restrained.

I am even more excited about the 2011 World Cup because I'm going to be doing a lot of work to use the interest in rugby to promote reading to young people across the UK.

This is what's going on:

* I have written a toolkit of rugby related literacy ideas for the National Literacy Trust. It is free. Available here.

* I will be surveying books, magazines, newspapers and websites for the best rugby reading from now until the end of the tournament, tweeting about everything I find at @worldcupreader. Please follow me if you're interested.

* I am touring schools and book festivals to play my Rugby Reading Game (rugby reading quiz followed by a goal kicking competition) in September and October. Most events re in schools, but the public events include:

Bath Children Book Festival - 24 september

Ilkley Literature Festival - 2 October

Beverley Literature Fesitval - 8 October

Manchester Literature Festival - 16 October

* and, my new rugby book Scrum! - details here - is out in October, published by Barrington Stoke.

If anyone has anything else going on based on reading and writing about the world cup, please let me know.