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.