Sunday, 9 September 2012

How the Arctic inspired my new book

My latest children's novel - White Fear - was published this week by Puffin.

The book was inspired by reports I read in newspapers about how quickly the Arctic ice is melting - and the number of catastrophes that could come of that.

* the seas will rise

* rare wildlife will die out

* communities that live in the Arctic will lose their way of life

* without the ice in place, the seabed is accessible and some countries will begin to drill for oil, gas and other valuable resources - AND that they will start to jostle for who owns which part of the sea bed

White Fear draws mostly on the last two threats.

It is set at a fictional conference of the Arctic Powers (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,Norway, Russia, Sweden and USA) in Tromso, Norway. These countries are trying, in a last chance to avoid war, to decide who owns which part of the seabed. But evil forces are at large. Forces that profit from war and oil exploitation. Forces that don't want peace.

The only way to avert war is for The Squad - five British child spies - to infiltrate the conference and stop the evil-doers. It involves mountain-top anxiety, abseiling, chases on ocean liners and even a submarine.

It also involves an ecological protest group made up of Inuit people - called White Fear - that is trying to make the Arctic Powers see sense and help reverse the ice melt.

Sadly, events in the last week have re-highlighted the problems the Arctic faces. 

The Arctic ice is now at its smallest and thinnest since records began. The melt is accelerating year on year, meaning that some Arctic Powers are already exploring, looking for oil and gas and minerals. Not so long ago the Russians placed a Russian flag on the seabed, appearing to claim it for themselves.

In addition, this week Greenpeace has been trying to prevent Russian drilling ships from searching for oil beneath that newly-exposed seabed, facing a very aggressive response from the Russians.

This time last year I was on board a Norwegian ship, looking at the waters and land that the Arctic Powers are fighting over. I hope this book does something to raise awareness in children about something that is vital to the future of our planet.

I also hope they enjoy it as a half-decent action thriller novel.

For a daily update on the Arctic ice you can visit

For news from Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign visit


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Olympic Football events in libraries

I am doing loads of events to help celebrate the Olympics in libraries this summer. Twenty eight in all.

I'll be running a special Olympic Football Reading Game: an easy quiz about things you can read around the Olympics (such as newspapers, magazines, online, books), followed by a penalty shoot out in the library, each featuring  different librarian in goal.

This is the schedule. I hope you can come and have a go.

If you need more details please get in touch with the library - or email me at
Monday 30th July
10.30am                  Fred Moore Library, Hull
1pm                        Analby Library, Hull
3pm                        Hull Central Library

Tuesday 31st July
10.30am                  Polesworth Library, Warwickshire
2pm                        Southam Library, Warwickshire

Thursday 2nd August
10am                      City Library, Newcastle
11.45am                 East End Library, Newcastle
2.30pm                  Blakelaw Library, Newcaslte

Friday 3rd August
10am                      Lower Kersall library, Salford
11.45am                 Broughton Library, Salford                              
2pm                        Ordsall library, Salford                   

Saturday 4th August
11am                      Beswick Library, Manchester
2pm                        Longsight  Library, Manchester
3.45pm                  Levenshulme Library, Manchester   

Thursday 9th August
10.30                      Bansolme Library, Hull
1pm                        Ings Library, Hull
3pm                        Freedom Centre, Hull

Friday 10th August
10.30am                   Bedworth Library, Warwickshire
2.30pm                     Rugby Library, Warwickshire

Monday 13th August
11am                      Hale Library, Trafford
2pm                        Coppice Library, Trafford
4pm                        Old Trafford Library, Trafford

Tuesday 14th August
11am                      The Avenue Library, Manchester
1.30pm                  North City Library 
3.45pm                  Withington Library

Wednesday 15th August
11am                     Wythenshawe Forum Library, Manchester
1.30pm                  City Library, Manchester
3.45pm                  Fallowfield Library, Manchester

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Euro 2012 reading tips for parents # 4: LIVE FICTION

Sometimes it is good to have a story that is really relevant.

If a story is set now and is about things on everybody's mind, then it might have a chance to grip a reader more.


For example, there are a few decent fiction books out about the Olympics now. Check out the following:

Running for Gold by Owen Slot
Cycling for Gold by Owen Slot
Danny Baker's Silly Olympics by Steve Hartley
Deep Waters by Robert Rigby
Running in her Shadow by Robert Rigby
Parallel Lines by Robert Rigby
Wheels of Fire by Robert Rigby

Also, my new book, Black Op takes place in the week before Euro 2012 and is set in Poland and Ukraine, where the tournament is taking place. A good one for children to be reading this week, perhaps...

But some readers find a whole book a bit too much to handle. That is why episodic stories, one short chapter a day, can work too. This is about as live as live fiction can get.

In conjunction with the National Literacy Trust, I have written one called The Great Euro 2012 Swindle. Well, the first chapter, anyway.

This is that first chapter of a story that is set for the duration of Euro 2012:


There will be fifteen more chapters, all published at 8 a.m. on the morning of each week day during Euro 2012.

To make it more exciting (and more of a challenge for me) the story will be written each evening after the day's games are played, after all the controversies of the tournament. Each will repsond to those events, meaning whatever is being talked about in the playground will be in the chapter.

The story is free. It will be published at and can be read aloud or printed out to one child, or to whole assemblies. Last the 2012 World Cup - over 3000 schools took part.

I hope this appeals.

P.S. I have not decided whether to follow the results of the tournament slavishly... or to change the scores so that England win. What do you think?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Euro 2012 reading tips for parents: # 3 WEBSITES

There are loads of websites covering the Euro 2012 football tournament. I think websites like this are great way of engaging children with reading.

This is why:

(1) webistes have short passages of text that are not too overwhelming;

(2) they have familiar images from the world of TV that children can feel comfortable with. Even familiar commentators and pundits;

(3) as websites, they have a great mix of images, audio and video footage, meaning that the reading is just part of an overall way of taking in information and is therefore not too much about trawling through lots of words;

(4) some of the websites have interactive elements, meaning that children can read a bit, then respond, then read a bit more.

(5) websites can be read on computers, phones and - importantly - in public libraries, making them free, unlike newspapers and magazines.
I have had a look at four of the main Euro 2012 websites. I've not gone for the newspapers' websites, because I have already talked about newspapers. But if you look on-line, all of the newspapers have extensive coverage of the tournament too.

Here goes:

BBC's is the best, for me. I love the way it is laid out. There is so much there. Here is a list of what they have:

* latest news
* analysis of each country's team
* videos of goals and players
* blogs by their correspondents
* a history of the tournament
* a kit to set up your own office or family sweepstake
* an e-wallchart
* and much much more

ITV have a decent site too. It has news, humour, videos and the fixtures. But I don't like it as much as the BBC one, which is far more comprehensive and better laid out, for me. That could be because I always look at the BBC's website, though, meaning that I am used to its format.

Like the BBC website, the ITV one is good because it relates very closely to what we are going to be watching on the TV. The same names. The same images. But with extra words. I find that attractive because it means I am already at ease with their content. I think - had there been websites when I was a boy - these two would have been my choices.

SkySports' Euro 2012 website is a little confusing, not so well laid out. The big issue for me with their site is that it is too easy to stumble into the Sky Bet areas. Not something I want to be encouraging children to do. I have a friend whose life has been ruined by betting on the football.

UEFA also have a website for the tournament. As the official one it has a lot of good information. But all the kick off times are in Central European Time, which started to confuse me a bit. But I'm easily confused.

So, take your pick. I hope these are useful.

Also, check out my blogs - below - about newspapers and magazines.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Euro 2012 Reading Tips for Parents # 2: MAGAZINES

Magazines are a great way of encouraging children to read. Especially if they are into football.

If you have football-loving children, then you will probably already know about Match, Match of the Day and Kick, the three football magazines aimed at children today. They all have special Euro 2012 editions out at the moment and would be a good present for children this Bank Holiday.

All three have lots of photos, statistics and quizzes, but may look short on text. They're great for the kind of children who really struggle with reading more than a page of a book without feeling it's a chore. But also great for more fluent readers.

There are some really good Euro 2012 magazines and books around this week that have a little more wording in them.  ITV, World Soccer, The Daily Express, FourFourTwo and others have produced special editions. They are in the newsagents and bookshops now.

These can be great as a way of encouraging reading in less-than-keen readers. Here are five ways you can use them to do just that:

1. Look at the fixture list or wall chart provided free with some of the guides. Put it on the wall. Challenge your child to predict who will win each group. Then suggest they read some of the content of the magazine to decide on how the results will go.

2. Show your child the two-page feature on a team in the magazine an hour before they kick off. Suggest they read about the team England is playing so that they are fully informed. Or read it to them.

3. Challenge them to a quiz. Give them the magazine for half-an-hour, saying you will quiz them on its contents (like, who is the top scorer in Spain, or, what colour is the Swedish flag). This could motivate them to read it - especially if you offer them a prize for getting so many questions right: something nice to eat or drink during the game, perhaps?

4. Stick page of the magazine around the house. On doors. In the kitchen. On the back of your car seat.

5. Show them the statistics pages in the back of most of the magazines. Stats and numbers are a great way of grabbing football fans' attention, to then lead them into reading some of the words.

Now you just need to choose the right magazine for you. You can read my review of most of the Euro 2012 guides here. I wrote these reviews with a class of year sixes in Essex, so they're about as honest as they could be.

Check out for loads more ideas about using Euro 2012 to encourage children to read more.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Euro 2012 Reading Tip for Parents # 1: NEWSPAPERS

I did not enjoy reading when I was a boy. Nor did I have the stamina to try anything as long as a book. I found books intimidating and boring. 

But I loved football.

So my mum used newspapers to build both my reading stamina and my idea of myself as a reader. She got me reading match reports, league tables, player interviews and more. I liked them because they were short and about something I wanted to know more about.

Also, they weren't book length, so there was no chance I was going to fail.

Euro 2012 gives parents a chance to enthuse football-loving children about reading, just like my mum did. Here are some tips on how you can get your child reading newspapers:

1. Deliver a football-heavy newspaper to your child's bedroom on the morning of big game.

2. Look at the newspaper yourself and read out bits to your child, leaving out the ending, to try to entice them to have a read themselves.

3. Find a newspaper feature about a player you know they admire. Someone from the club they support. Cut it out and see if they'll have a look at it. Stick it on the toliet wall if you think they'll have a look at it while there.

4. Pore over the post-match statistics in the newspaper. Player marks out of ten, number of shots on goal, etc. Try to guess what you and your child think will be the marks out of ten or other statistics before the game. This might encourage them to follow it up the next day in the newspaper.

5. Read out the interview the manager will have given after the game. Ask your child if they think he is telling the truth or just making excuses.

Some of these ideas might work. I hope so.
Once my mum had got me confident reading newspapers, I would even buy them myself to find out more about football. Soon I was a more confident reader and began to be less intimidated by books.

Sadly my mum is dead now. She saw me get into reading, but died before I started to try to write books. It's a great shame. But at least she left me with the wonderful legacy that is a love of reading.

For more Euro 2012 reading tips check out this blog tomorrow and have a look at

Friday, 25 May 2012

Film trailer for Black Op

One of my readers - Arun Hawkes - has made a film trailer for my new book, Black Op.

I hope you like it. I do. I think he's done a great job.

Black Op trailer

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Why Euro 2012 doesn't need to damage our children's futures

Euro 2012 is expected to damage the grades that many children get in their GCSEs this summer.

Research from Oxford and Bristol universities shows that during European Championships and World Cups, the grades of most students drop in comparison to years when there is no major football tournament.

It's quite striking. And - no doubt - affects more than just the children doing their GCSEs.

In a bid to help combat this I have written a letter that schools can send out to parents. Not telling them to ban their kids from watching the matches: but offering them ten tips on how they can engage their children with reading during the tournament, keeping their minds in tip top condition.

In addition, there are lots of Euro 2012 literacy resources on the National Literacy Trust website that will be useful in schools.

Please contact me on if you have any problems accessing any of the resources.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Euro 2012 guides

The magazines stands are creaking with Euro 2012 guides.

Have a look at this.*

But which is the best?

And, equally importantly, which has the best wallchart?

On Friday I am working with twelve children for a whole morning to answer those questions for you.

So look out for our comprehensive review of these marvellous publications.

* - how did that children's book that is set during Euro 2012 get in there?

Black Op Book Launch

Last week saw me up in Newcastle launching Black Op.

I have just got this photo through of some children from one of the schools that attended.

The kids had won a writing competition and were given a copy of my book as a prize.

Most of them look pleased about that.

Also in the photo is Mike Williamson, the Newcastle defender. He kindly came along and took dozens of questions from the children.

Footballers get a bad press. Speeding fines. Racism. Cheating - on the pitch and off it. But I have met several footballers now and they have mostly been really nice men.

Mike Williamson was so good with the children - and with the adults. He talked about reading, about his children, about fitness and healthy living. I was very impressed.

Thanks to Newcastle Libraries and Benefield School for setting the event up. It was a pleasure to be there.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

F.A.O. Waterstone's Booksellers

I start my tour of twenty-something Waterstone's bookshops today in Manchester.

During the summer I will be visitng 27 stores, including the Bradford Waterstone's, where I used to work.

As well as hosting public penalty shoot outs for children, I will be scouring Waterstones for their best penalty taker.

The champion wins £100 cash.

This is all to promote my new Puffin children's book, Black Op. Black Op is about spies and football and is set during Euro 2012 in Poland.

Waterstone's confirmed for this challenge include: Manchester Deansgate and Arndale, Preston, Southport, Cardiff, Birmingham HS, Huddersfield, Doncaster, Kettering, St Albans, Portsmouth, Bridport, both Plymouths, Trafford Centre, Camberley, Southampton, Berkhamsted, Chesham, Aylesbury, Bradford, Leeds, York, Newcastle and (maybe) Truro.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Jim Sells is a Bad Man

The villain in Black Op is an ex England football star called Jim Sells.

Jim Sells (fictional) used to play for Spartak Moscow in Russia and - while there - he is corrupted and begins working for the KGB, then FSB.

In my book, he is the coach of an England youth team. He is also a spy master for five children who are using the team as their cover story.

But, when I was planning the book, Jim Sells (fictional) was good. He was based on my friend and National Literacy Trust hero, er... Jim Sells (real). He would coach the children in football and spycraft and help them save the England football team from certain death.

Jim Sells (fictional) was also slightly based on the author James Riordan, whose book Comrade Jim describes how he played for Spartak in the 50s while mixing with known spies and double agents. Great book. Sadly, Riordan died recently. I was lucky to meet him once.

When I was writing the book, Jim Sells (fictional) suddenly turned and betrayed the five children he was nurturing. It turns out he was working for the Russian secret services.

I'm not sure why. It just happened. One minute the children were looking for Sells, knowing he was in danger. The next minute, he was on a chopper from Poland to Moscow, having left them in a very perilous situation.

It was strange and hard to write, because Jim Sells (real) is such a nice man. But that's what happened.

My favourite author - Emile Zola - wrote an essay once, saying he set his characters off and let them do what they needed to do and that it wasn't really down to him. I had that in mind when I wrote it.

Of course, I'm no Emile Zola.

And I must stress Jim Sells (real) is no Jim Sells (fictional) ... as far as I know.

Black Op is published tomorrow by Puffin Books.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

I Wish I was a Travel Writer

My new book - Black Op - is set in Poland.

When I write a book, I always try to visit the country I am writing about.

I don't have the confidence - or arrogance - as a writer to write about a place I have not been to.

I also read books about the places, look on YouTube at footage for settings and characters, as well as talking to people from the countries I choose.

But nothing beats going there.

Poland is one of the places where Euro 2012 is being played. That's why I chose it.

The story of Black Op is that a terror group is planning to attack England's football team as they prepare for Euro 2012 in Krakow.

So I went to Krakow.

First I read the Rough Guide. Then I headed off to Poland.
When I travel to a city or area, I let the places dictate the storyline. 

This is a beautiful palace on top of the hill alongside the river on the outskirts of the city centre in Krakow. When I was sat there I recognised that it would be a great place - possibly the only place - for a helicopter to land in the middle of the night, without ruffling too many feathers.

So I put that in the story.

This church - on the left - is fascinating. The taller tower plays host to a trumpeter, who, as regularly as clockwork, plays his trumpet to mark a significant moment in the history of the city.

This is described in a small book of stories about the city that I bought in the tourist information shop in Krakow.

The noise echoes across the squares and narrow roads of Krakow, even during the night.

When I heard the trumpeter I understood how the spy characters in Black Op would be able to identity and try to stop a crazed former-KGB agent from attacking the England team with a rocket launcher.

Even if I am not writing a book, I love to travel to places. I like to read the stories about how the city came to be, including the myths and legends that define a place.

I like reading travel writing for that reason too.

In fact, I wish I could be a travel writer.

But I'd rather be a good husband and father and I don't think I could do both well. Yet.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Trailer for Black Op

I have a talented reader. His name is Arun and he lives in England.

I met him at his old school a couple of years ago. Since then he has sent me stories he has written and - more recently - his animations. He puts together storylines using figures like this lot.

I enjoyed Arun's latest film so much, I asked him a favour. Please would he make a trailer for Black Op?

He said yes. And I am thriiled.

The first part of the process is casting. Meet Hatty, Lily, Kester, Adnan and Lesh. Teenage spies: ready for action.

I am seriously excited.

More to follow...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

On Tour

I am now on tour. Officially.

For three months I am going round schools, book festivals and libraries talking about Black Op.

Because the book is about Euro 2012 and England in particular, I feel the need to wear my new England top as a sort of costume.

Therefore, every night, I get the handwash out and wash it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Five Exciting Euro 2012 resources

I had a great meeting with Jim Sells of the National Literacy Trust today.

Here's Jim.

We were talking about Euro 2012.

We have some plans for using the excitement around the Euro 2012 tournament (June 8th to July 1st) to promote reading. This is what we finalised. All FREE.

ONE: a toolkit of activities, displays and other joy for schools and libraries that will get football lovers reading and writing (an early version of this is already available here)

TWO: a letter for schools to give to parents, suggesting ways they can encourage their children to read during major sporting tournaments (that's here)

THREE: a daily episodic classroom read story each weekday of Euro 2012 - we will try to make this available in print, as audio and on video (in fact, we videoed the first chapter of it today, but the rest will be written as the tournament unfolds)

FOUR: a daily writing exercise based on the events of the tournament (this is only available to NLT member schools - more about joining that network that here)

FIVE: a weekly blog from me about things you can read to do with Euro 2012 - books, magazines, guides, great journalism

We are both very excited about all this (as you can see from Jim's beaming smile). We love football. We love promoting reading.

If you want to know more about any of the above please do email me via

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Reading Comics

I have been researching war stories, as I am about to go back to my WWI children's novel.

Normally I read books and watch films of stories around the subject I am writing about. Not to copy, but to see what other authors and film makers have done and learn from what I like and don't like about the way they did it.

I tried video games for this book too. Playing a WW2 game.

One new thing I've done is read comics. This book of War Comics (above) is great. It has a variety of war stories. Not all gung-ho like the cover suggests. The first two are about Hiroshima and the Falkland Islands. Both anti-war. But some great gung-ho stuff too.

Comics are different. They are fast-paced. They are visual. You are carried along a bit like a film, but you're reading.

I think reading the comics will help. Films give me detail. Books give me emotions and action. Games give me a chance to be in the boots of the characters I am writing about. Comics give me a bit of all of that and something more.

It all helps.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Black Op Waterstone's tour

I am doing a collosal tour of the UK to promote Black Op, which is out on May 3rd. Half are public. Half are in schools. They tie in with Euro 2012.

Here are the rough details of the Waterstone's bookshops I'll be visiting. They will involve either a penalty shoot out or a table football tournament.

There will be more details on my website soon of all the other places I am coming to. Libraries. Independent bookshops. Festivals.


Sat 5                12- 1.30           Manchester Deansgate
Sat 5                2-4                   Manchester Arndale
Sat 12              11-12.30          Preston
Sat 12              3-4.30              Southport 
Wed 16            4.30pm            Manchester Trafford centre

Sat 2                1-3                   Cardiff
Sun 3               2-4                   Birmingham High Street
Mon 4              10.30-12          Huddersfield                      
Mon 4              2-4                   Doncaster
Tue 5               11-12.30          Kettering
Tue 5               3-4.30              St Albans
Wed 6             11-12.30          Portsmouth
Wed 6             3-4.30              Bridport
Thu 7               11-12.30          Plymouth
Thu 7               2-4                   Plymouth Drake Circus
Fri 8                 11-1                 Camberley
Fri 8                 3-4.30              Southampton
Sat 16             10-11.30          Berkhampstead
Sat 16             12.30-1.30       Chesham
Sat 16             3-4.30              Aylesbury
Sat 23             11-12.30          Bradford
Sat 23              2-4                   Leeds
Sun 1               1-3                   York

I hope to see some of you there. I'll be handing out free Euro 2012 scorecards to anyone who comes along. As well as signing books, of course.

Thanks to Waterstone's for being so supportive. I worked for Waterstone's for several years (like many authors), so it'll be lovely going back.

Monday, 2 April 2012

22 Ways to Promote a New Book

A month today my new book - The Squad: Black Op - is out.

As I said in my last blog, I have been planning how best to promote it.

Some people have asked what I am planning exactly. So here is some detail.


I should say that, before I was a published author, I worked for several years in bookshops and libraries, promoting other authors' events. I also ran a couple of book festivals. This has helped me understand bookshop and library needs and how best to appeal to them. That's the theory, anyway.

My book is about five child spies who use the cover of an England youth football team to spy on threats to the UK. Therefore, a lot of what I am doing is related to football. But, in any book,there will be subject areas that correspond to the football in my book.

22 Ways

1. Giving out an A5 photocopied four-page sampler of the book at dozens of schools and libraries, for them to photcopy.

2. Printing a Euro 2012 scorecard for kids to fill in, featuring the book. Giving this to the 10,000 children I will be talking to over the next two months. Sending 5000 more to schools I have visited in the recent past.

3. Altering home page of website to feature the book. Adding new pages to the site about the book, including an interview with myself about it.

4. Creating a schools literacy pack about Euro 2012, for teachers to use to enthuse kids to read newspapers, magazines and books. Creating this as a free resource for the National Literac yTrust to offer to their mailing list.

5. Send schools on our mailing list a letter to parents, suggesting ways that parents can use a major sporting event to enthuse their kids about books.

6. Sending out a newsletter to schools offering all the above, focussing more on the free resources available, less on the book.

7. Sending a newsletter out to fans who have emailed me, offering them a scorecard and first chapter for them and their friends.

8. Hosting a Euro 2012 prediction competition on my website for fans and school children. A free visit from me to their school and some signed books as a prize.

9. Asking three fans to read early copies of the book and asking if they will do quotes for me about what they think of the book. Using those quotes on my website and in other areas.

10. Setting up a three month tour of bookshops, schools, festivals and libraries. 70 days of events. 10,000 kids. Half the days I am doing are without fees, but expenses supported by Puffin. Half I am being paid to do.

11. Making sure all the venues I am going to have the new book for sale and trying to ensure that they have sent letters to parents saying that signed copies of the book are on sale.

12. Email friends and people I have worked well with to ask them to blog or tweet about the book.

13. Contacts schools I have worked with near the libraries and bookshops I am talking at, to say I am there.

14. Contact bookshops and libraries near the school I am talking at to say children may be in looking to buy the books.

15. Do a press release to local newspapers and radio before events, offering 5 top tips on reading around a sporting tournament for kids.

16 Writing a daily story during Euro 2012 that can be read in classrooms. Featuring the events of the tournament, so written live. This will be offered to schools via my newsletters, the National Literacy Trust and through Twitter.

17. Sending copies of the book to football journalists who are going to Euro 2012. The book is set in Poland just before the tournament kicks off. In the hope they will mention it.

18. Publish 10 tips on using sports tournaments to promote reading on Twitter in the week or so before the tournament. One a day.

19. Writing a 'fun' daily writing exercise for schools to give to children, reacting to events of the Euro 2012 tournament. Again, promoted through the National Literacy Trust.

20. Create a facebook page for the series to link into the bookshops and other venues that I am visiting.

21. Blog about a new angle on the book each day for 50 days, tying in with issues in football and literacy that come up during that period.

22. Tweet about everything I am doing and blogging, linking in the free resources.

This is going to be the most intense period of working I have ever done. It will take up a lot of time. A huge amount of time.

Most of wha I have planned is cheap or free. Only the scorecards were an investment for me.

I hope this was useful. It's rough idea of a plan.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Living the Dream

We (my wife and I) spent a bit of time this weekend planning the promotion of my new book, Black Op.

It's out in a month and we have some exciting things going on. Events. Free stories and resources. Blogs. Competitions. News pieces. You name it. (So long as it doesn't cost too much.)

I feel like this is a really important book for me. It has to do well.

Writers today are judged by their book sales. If we don't sell so well, then we're vulnerable and our dream of being a writer that makes a living from the job might come to an end.

That's life. Everyone is in a position like that these days. Writers are no different.

I've been lucky. I've had fourteen books commissioned by Puffin. That is beyond any dream I ever had.

But I want more. I want to write more stories. I have dozens of ideas. I love what I do. It's a brilliant job. And that includes going into schools and talking to children about books. Most definitely.

Also - and let's be honest - it's my job. If I don't sell book, I don't get paid.

When children ask me why I write my books, I say:

* because I love making up stories

* because I like to travel and watch football

But I also say:

* because I get paid to do it and it means I can support my family.

So, I am planning the launch of Black Op. There's more about book at You can even read the first chapter.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

One to One Boys Reading Club

I was in St James' Primary School in Ashton today. The teacher - Miss Anderson - told me about a reading scheme she does with the boys.

Some of the boys are reluctant readers and don't respond well to all-class reading projects. She needed to come up with something more personal.

So, Miss Anderson challenges them
to read one of my books.

If a boy finishes it, he has a special lunch with Miss (who is the kind of teacher a child would want to have a special lunch with), where they talk about the book in an easy-going way.

Then, if he has read it, the boy gets to choose who the next boy is that will read the book.

It creates a buzz. The boys want to be the next one to be chosen. They can't wait for their go.

And, once they have read the first book, they are allowed to read the rest  of the series, which are kept in a special library for those doing the scheme.

If the boys read all of the series the get a special signed certificate from me - and a letter saying well done. (More info about the certificates here.)

Miss Anderson is a big fan of action and thriller books. She likes the kind of books that boys like. She was recommending Percy Jackson to them all day. She puts her book tastes down to her book-loving brother who, when he was young, would read books, making her want to read the books he read.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Football's Slave Trade

Sky is running a show at the moment called Football's Slave Trade. It's about unscrupulous football agents who exploit the enormous desire of young African footballers to play the game in Europe.

It is covered in today's Metro.

I went to Ghana in 2009 to research the issue, spending time watching football there and meeting young players. I was lucky to be hosted by the Right to Dream football academy, who do things the right way. I also read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles about the problem. Plus, a couple of disertations.

My book - Off Side - is about a young footballer from Ghana who is trafficked to the UK, expecting to play football for a Premier League team, only to find he and his family have been cheated. There is nothing in Europe for him and his family have lost everything.

Off Side is based on true stories I researched. Experts estimate there are over 7000 young men in Europe who have been trafficked in this way, many of whom are too ashamed to go home to Africa and end up involved in crime and prostitution.

Perhaps the most striking thing for me is that every few weeks I get an email from a footballer or coach in Ghana asking me if I will take their players to the UK and have a look at them. Because I write a series called Football Academy, they think I run an academy here in the UK.

I could quite easily set up my own scam. It shows how easy it would be.

FIFA, to their credit, are investigating.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Boys Read for Pleasure

I've just gone back on Twitter after a six month break - and straight away I've noticed something to confirm what I already knew.

Boys read for pleasure.

Loads of boys (and girls) are tweeting about football, passing around match reports and articles, discussing them. They tweet their dads, their mates and occassional children's football writers.

Is this match report fair?

Should so-and-so have been sent off?

What are the match stats for the weekend's games?

When I go into schools I spend most of my time asking children what they like to read. They like the back pages. They like Match and Match of the Day. They like biographies of Rooney and Messi and Pele. They like football fiction like mine, Dan Freedman's and Rob Childs'.

This is great news. It means boys read. Boys read for pleasure.

The one hurdle is that just a few adults think that reading about football is trivial, not real, not rewarding. I know this is the minority. I know most teachers and parents and librarians celebrate any reading in boys and girls.

If boys read about football for pleasure it means that boys read for pleasure. And girls.

And, of course, it's not just football. It's guitars, it's cars, it's whatever they are into.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

EURO 2012 Predictions

It's too early to start making predictions for Euro 2012, but I'm trying to get my mind off domestic football this week.

Please don't ask.

AND I do say on these Euro 2012 scorecards that I'll be making predictions.

So, seeing as I am giving them out to eager football fans in schools now, I'd better make some.

Here goes. My quarter finals, semis and final. And winner.

Quarter finals
Czech Rep v Holland
Germany v Poland
Spain v France
England v Italy

Semi finals
Holland v Spain
Germany v England

Spain v Germany


Yes, I have taken England further than they, perhaps, will go. But it is no fun doing these predictions unless you get England to the semis, is it? Unless you're not English, of course.

Feel free to add your predictions...

Monday, 19 March 2012

England Top

I'm still getting increasingly excited about Euro 2012.

A couple of days ago I bought the new England top. Here it is, modelled by me in my Welsh hotel room tonight.

Curtains closed. No need to cause offence.

I arrived in Wales this evening, zipping up my jacket, just in case...

Tomorrow I am in Merthyr Tydfil. I'll go plain-clothed.

Today I was in a Albrighton Primary school. It was a lovely day, finished off with a game of five-a-side in the playground. I'm a lucky man.

Back to Euro 2012. On train today I saw a newsstand selling a preview for the tournament. 83 days to go...