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.