Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Incredible TYGER artwork!

I've just made a short video of Dave McKean's incredible art on the front, back and spine of TYGER!  Please do watch, it's a thing of beauty.  

And if you'd like to pre-order a copy, you can find all the information on this link to my publishers' page for the book.




Tuesday, 2 August 2022

TYGER early reviews!

There have been some amazing early reviews for my new book TYGER!

It was Editor's Choice for October children's books in The Bookseller magazine, where Charlotte Eyre gave it this wonderful review:


TYGER has also had amazing reviews on various blogs!  Here's the verdict from Through The Bookshelf:

It was everything I had hoped for - and more. The word ‘masterpiece’ is often bandied around, but in this case, I feel it is truly justified. I loved 'Tyger' and, for me, it is easily SF Said’s best book so far.



Here's Kate Heap's review on Scope For Imagination:

Where do I even begin with this incredible book? An adventure woven with mythology, magic and the power of the human spirit, Tyger by SF Said is a story to be internalised and drawn upon again and again. This book is destined to last – it already has a classic feel.

And here's Dawn Finch on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure

Varjak Paw is an absolute classic and with books like Phoenix adding to the Said shelf it is clear that there was a lot of weight and expectation on Tyger. Breathe easy, it delivers. In spades. There is no doubt that this book earns one of those rare spots on the shelf marked "Future Classics".


A huge thank you to all these writers for their amazing reviews – after the nine years it took me write Tyger, these words mean more than I can say! 




Monday, 25 July 2022

TYGER video!

I'm very excited to share a short video about new book TYGER!  Watch this if you want to know more about the story and its inspirations:


Please do share this video with anyone who wants to know more about TYGER – and if you want to pre-order a copy, here are some helpful links from my publishers:







Tuesday, 12 July 2022

TYGER is available to order now!

I have some incredible news.  After 9 and a half years of work, we finally sent my new book TYGER to the printers yesterday!  This is the final version, fully illustrated by the brilliant Dave McKean, who illustrated my other books.  

And TYGER is now available to pre-order!  You can reserve your copy, so it will be delivered to you first, as soon as it's published on October 6th.  Here's a helpful list of links my publishers have put together, of various places where you can buy it:








And just to give you a taste of it – here's a sample of Dave's incredible artwork from the book, with Adam and the tyger...



Monday, 27 June 2022

TYGER - first reactions!

My publishers have been sending proof copies of my new book TYGER out to various readers in the past few weeks – authors, booksellers, teachers, librarians – and it is amazing to see people's reactions coming in.  I worked on this book for 9 years, so it means more than I can say to read responses like these:


  

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 10 March 2022

TYGER COVER REVEAL!!!

I am beyond excited to share this with you all at last – Dave McKean's stunning cover for my new book TYGER, which will be published by David Fickling Books this October 2022!




Isn't that incredible?!  People have been talking about it a lot on Twitter.  Here's an interesting thread where they're discussing all the little details you can see if you look closely...  

What can YOU see?  If you're on Twitter – why not join in the conversation?


Friday, 4 March 2022

TYGER is coming in October!

I have some big news!  It's just been officially announced that my new book TYGER will be published this October 2022 by David Fickling Books!



It was announced in The Bookseller magazine; you can read the full article by clicking on the link, but here are a few highlights!


"David Fickling Books has landed Tyger, the fourth novel from SF Said, marking the return of his partnership with illustrator Dave McKean.

The synopsis for Tyger reads: “In a strange alternate world, where the British Empire has never ended, a young boy called Adam has uncovered something incredible in a rubbish dump in London – a mysterious, mythical, magical animal.  A Tyger.”

Commissioning editor Rosie Fickling said: “Tyger isn’t just a book, it’s a gateway into another world.  A world where we all have sparks, hidden powers, inside of us.  It’s the kind of book where you start to wonder: What if? Could it be?  I’ve had the privilege of immersing myself in this story with SF throughout the editorial process and I can’t wait to see the same light in readers’ eyes that I feel in me now.  After reading, I hope they also find themselves increasingly noticing the world around them, looking more closely at a flower, at a grain of sand – and perhaps, every time they smell honeysuckle, hopefully whispering ’Is the Tyger nearby?’”

SF Said said: “I believe Tyger is my best book so far.  I wanted to write a story even more exciting than Varjak Paw, and even more ambitious than Phoenix.  It’s taken me nine long, hard years to do it but I am thrilled to be publishing it at last this year – the Year of the Tiger.”


I will tweet and post more about TYGER in the weeks and months to come - starting with a cover reveal of Dave McKean's incredible artwork next week!

Thursday, 3 March 2022

World Book Day 2022

Happy World Book Day 2022!  I'm in favour of anything that celebrates books and reading, so I love World Book Day!  I made a video again this year, and it's been amazing to see that go out into classrooms, libraries and homes around the world. I also love seeing all the different ways that people have found to celebrate their favourite books. So here are some of the brilliant pictures I've seen this year, with thanks to everyone involved!

 

 






Sunday, 20 February 2022

World Book Day Video 2022

Here's a brand new video I've made for World Book Day 2022!  It's all about reading and writing for pleasure.  There's also a sneak peek of my new book TYGER, which will be published later this year!



It's absolutely free for anyone to watch on YouTube.  I'd also be delighted for schools and libraries to show it in World Book Day assemblies and activities; you don't need to ask my permission to show it!  

I hope you enjoy it – and if you do, please pass it on to anyone else who you think might enjoy it, too!


Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Virtual Visit to Park Hill Junior School

 I've had the pleasure of visiting Park Hill Junior School in Kenilworth a couple of times in the past, because this is a school where they've been reading my books for a long time now!  I wrote about those visits in these blogs.  But this year, I made my first-ever virtual visit to Park Hill after Year 6 wrote me some wonderful letters about Phoenix, which they've been reading:



So I had the pleasure of chatting virtually with Year 6 about Phoenix, and all its inspirations.  I also talked to Year 3 about Varjak Paw, which they were reading, and to Years 4 & 5 about all my books, and about reading and writing in general.  In every year group, it was great to see so much enthusiasm for reading and books, and to answer all the brilliant questions they asked me.   This really is a school with a lot of fantastic young readers and writers!

I also had the pleasure of working again with the wonderful Kenilworth Books, one of my favourite bookshops, who organised a virtual signing session so that everyone who wanted a signed book could get one!  But if anyone missed out on the day, I did sign some extra bookplates for them, so you can still get a signed book there.  


Thanks to Kenilworth Books for doing such a terrific job, and for these fabulous photos – and thanks to everyone at Park Hill Junior School for a brilliant virtual visit!  And if anyone at Park Hill would like to ask me another question, or to say anything about the visit or my books, just leave me a comment below!


Thursday, 23 December 2021

TYGER!

I've just tweeted some news about my new book, TYGER!  



I've blogged a little bit about TYGER here before.  It's a project that I started 9 years ago, and it's been through many twists and turns in all that time.  But last week, I finally finished writing the book, and I feel sure it's the best book I've written so far – a big step up on Varjak Paw, and on Phoenix. 


TYGER is currently scheduled for publication in October 2022, but I will blog more about it next year when I have more information.  Please do check my Twitter feed for more updates too – but in the meantime, I want to wish all my readers a very happy new year, and happy reading in 2022!

Friday, 2 July 2021

Varjak Paw chosen as one of the 100 best children's books of the past 100 years!

I have some amazing news! The reading charity BookTrust has put together a list of the 100 best children's books of the past 100 years – and Varjak Paw is on the list!



It's such an honour to see it included as part of a fantastic selection that combines established classics with newer, more contemporary books.  Have a look around the list in full – it includes some of my own favourite books of all time, like Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, Malorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses, Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard Of Earthsea, Alan Garner's The Owl Service, Jamila Gavin's The Wheel Of Surya, Andy Stanton's Mr Gum, and many many more!

I think there's something for everyone here.  The selection is divided into four age groups: 0-5, 6-8, 9-11, and 12-14.  Varjak appears in the Best Books for 9-11 list.

Huge thanks to everyone who was involved in putting this list together!  I don't find writing easy – Varjak Paw took me 5 years to get right, and I'm currently 8 and a half years into work on my new book TYGER – but things like this make all the hard work worthwhile!


Thursday, 4 March 2021

World Book Day 2021

Happy World Book Day 2021!  This has been a strange World Book Day, because of the lockdown, but I've been inspired to see all the different ways that people have still found to celebrate books and reading!  It's an amazing thing for an author to see their books and characters being celebrated – so here are some of the brilliant pictures I've seen this year, with thanks to everyone who's taken the time to make these astonishing creations! 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

A Message For World Book Day 2021

Usually on World Book Day, I'd be visiting schools, talking to classes about reading and books. This year, because of the lockdown, that won't be possible – so instead, I've made a World Book Day video, all about reading and books!  

This video is absolutely free for anyone to watch on YouTube, so if you or your school would like a message from me on World Book Day, here it is:


I hope you enjoy it – and if you do, please pass it on to anyone else who you think might enjoy it, too!


Monday, 28 December 2020

Virtual Visits

Until 2020, I'd never done a virtual author visit. Until this year, I never even did videocalls with friends, because I wasn't comfortable with the technology! But with the Covid-19 pandemic, many things have changed, and this has been the year that I've embraced the technology, and started doing virtual visits. 


As a children's author, I've been visiting schools since 2003. I believe it's worth doing anything that gets children excited about reading. All the research shows that reading for pleasure has the biggest impact of any factor on a child's life chances. And the personal interaction and connection of an author visit can engage them and get them excited about reading in a way that nothing else can. 



Over the years, I've met many children who never liked books before, and thought reading was for other people, not them – but then got it during an author visit, and now couldn't stop. I've met children who had struggled to write a single sentence, but went on to write books of their own. Sometimes I've heard from them years later, telling me how the visit inspired them. It's clear that it was a turning point in their lives.



I wasn't sure if a virtual visit could have the same kind of impact. But I do the same thing on a virtual visit that I do in person: I talk to the children about stories. I share my favourites and I hear about theirs. And it becomes clear to them that books are for EVERYONE, and that everyone can be a reader. And they see that authors are people like themselves, which helps them to see themselves as writers, too; people who have stories of their own to tell. 



It's been brilliant to see the impact of the virtual visits I've done this year, even when children were isolating at home.  I am so glad that technology gives us a way to keep the interaction and connection going, and to continue inspiring children to read. So THANK YOU to all the teachers, librarians, schools and festivals that have organised virtual visits with me this year.  And for anyone thinking about organising one, and wondering if it's worth it – I absolutely believe that it is!





 

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

The Books That Change Our Lives

A version of this piece was originally written for the CBC Diversity Blog.
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I write children's books because I believe they're the books that change our lives.  

My favourite book as a child was Watership Down by Richard Adams.  I've re-read it more than once as an adult, trying to understand why I loved it so much.  As a child, I saw a thrilling adventure story about rabbits trying to survive in the wild.  But now I can see that it's a story about the big questions of human life.  Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Where do we belong?  How should we live? 


I think that's why it meant so much to me.  My family's roots are in the Middle East.  My ancestors were Iraqi, Egyptian, Kurdish and Circassian Muslims.  I grew up in Britain in the 1970s, where such origins were unusual.  Negotiations around identity, difference and belonging were daily facts of my life.  

Even my name was an issue.  It's an ordinary Arabic name, but totally unpronounceable in English!  Whenever it came up, people would question it to such an extent that I ended up using initials, to make life easier for everyone.  


So when I read Watership Down and saw that the hero of the rabbits' myths was called El-Ahrairah, it struck a very deep chord.  The greatest rabbit who ever lived had an Arabic-sounding name?  That gave me what Junot Diaz has described as a feeling of seeing myself reflected; realising my background could be something more than a burden.

A children's book had given me a way to think about myself and my place in the world.  That's why I decided to put everything I have into writing children's books.  I put years and years of work into making each book the best it can possibly be; making them as thrilling as I can, but also filling them with those big questions.  Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Where do we belong?  How should we live?


In my first book, Varjak Paw, these questions are explored through cats and dogs.  Varjak is a cat who's been told that dogs are monsters, and that cats and dogs can never even communicate, let alone be friends!  Yet he transcends these prejudices to make friends with a dog, and learns that a dog can actually be the best and most loyal friend a cat could ever have. 

My most recent book, Phoenix, is set in a galaxy where humans and aliens are at war with each other.  The humans have even built a spacewall to keep the aliens out.  The main characters are a human boy and an alien girl whose lives have both been damaged by the war.  They discover that they have much more in common than they thought possible – and together, perhaps they can even save the galaxy.


I didn't write Phoenix about any specific situation in the real world.  But I did want to explore those ideas of identity, difference and belonging that I've been living with all my life, and that I think lie at the roots of so many situations all over the world.  

Things have changed a lot since my childhood.  People are on the move as never before; hundreds of millions of us now live outside our countries of origin.  One response to that is to build walls.  But another is to build bridges of understanding, as my characters must do to survive.  

Young people everywhere are hungry for stories to help them navigate this world.  My highest hope is that a book like Varjak Paw or Phoenix might help them think about the world, their experiences of it, and other people's experiences, just as Watership Down helped me.  I love the idea that children's books can be bridges connecting people, showing them that however different someone else might seem, the things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.  And that difference can be a source of richness: something to be celebrated, not mocked or feared.


Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Writing The Outlaw Varjak Paw

I never set out to write more than one Varjak Paw book.  I wrote the story of a powerless kitten who gradually comes into his power, and grows into a cat.  For me, that story ends at the end of Varjak Paw.


But writing Varjak Paw, I'd found all sorts of questions I didn't have room to answer in one book.  Take Sally Bones, boss of the meanest gang of streets cats in the city.  Varjak had made a terrible enemy there.  What was going to happen when he went back to the city and met her again?  It was clear that I was going to have to write a sequel to find out.


I have to be honest: I don't usually like sequels.  So often, they feel like a letdown, and as a reader, there's nothing I hate more than a sequel that lets me down.  There was no way I could let that happen with Varjak.  I promised myself there would only be a sequel if it was as good as the first one, if not better.  It needed to be a great book in its own right; a story that could stand alone, and take us somewhere new.


I didn't think it would be that hard.  I already had characters, situations, a world… all I had to do was find a new story.  How hard could it be?  Well, I can honestly say that writing The Outlaw Varjak Paw is the hardest thing I've ever done!  Here was my problem.  In the first book, a powerless kitten becomes a powerful cat.  That's an interesting story.  But a character who has power is just not that interesting.  He can fight his way out of any corner, so where's the story? 


I tried all kinds of things.  I explored the city, and discovered whole new areas I'd never known about.  I met some amazing new characters, like the Scratch Sisters, the Orrible Twins, and of course Buster and Bomballooloo, who I think have the best names of all my characters!  I found out a lot more about the stories of characters like Cludge.  But Varjak's own story just wasn't right.  Nothing felt as interesting as what had happened to him in the first book. 


Around draft eight, I remember losing hope.  I felt sure I'd never complete this book.  I thought I was finished as a writer.  The first book was a lucky accident, but now the truth was clear: I would never write anything else again.  I really, really wanted to give up.  These were very dark times indeed. 


But somehow… those feelings gave me the key to the story.  What if Varjak felt exactly like I did?  What if he believed he'd lost his power, and was finished as a fighter?  How would he survive without the skills he'd learned in the first book?  What would he fall back on then?  The moment I had that thought, the book came to life.  The story came into focus, sharp and clear.  It didn't take long from there to finish it.


The Outlaw Varjak Paw went on to win the Blue Peter Book Of The Year Award – one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me.  It was recently picked as one of the ten best books ever to win that award, on a list with the likes of Harry Potter, Matilda and The Gruffalo.  So all the hard work was worth it in the end.  


But the experience taught me a very big lesson.  The story is the most important thing.  You should only write a book if you know what the story is, because without that to guide you, you'll get as lost and confused as I did.  So to answer a question I'm often asked: yes, there will be a third Varjak Paw book one day – but only when I'm absolutely sure what the story is! 


Monday, 8 June 2020

#PassTheBookplate – a bookselling boost on shifting ground

Independent bookshops have been quick to adapt to the extraordinary changes that have altered our landscape.  We’ve seen indies trading online, over social media, through newsletters, over the phone – basically continuing to do what they do best: being agile and imaginative!

Many are now planning to at least partially reopen their doors on Monday 15th June, and we wanted to come up with a plan to give them some support – at least in their first month of reopening.



So we’ve made a simple, low-cost plan that can happen fast!  Tamsin Rosewell from Kenilworth Books has used their bookshop network to ask high profile authors to sign bundles of bookplates for independent bookshops.  The last thing bookshops need right now is to have to take a risk on buying signed stock.  If we can instead send them signed bookplates, bookshops can order what they need, when they need it, and sell bookplated books in a steady stream.

If you’re a bookseller and you’d like to join in, let @IndieBookshopUK know – Stephen Baird has been helping us plan the simplest way to manage this.  We’ll be dividing up the bookplates as fairly as possible and posting them out as they come in.  Tamsin has envelopes and a whole load of large letter stamps to hand!

We’d love the help of other high profile authors who can help indies generate sales – so please contact us if you’d like to join in.  You can email tamsinrosewell@btinternet.com or contact your publisher and ask for bookplates!  Authors have used postcards and bookmarks too, so if you have anything like that to hand that can be signed, we’d love to use it!  Publishers, if you’d also like to offer your support, please also email Tamsin.

A huge thanks to Philip Pullman, Sophie Anderson, Nicola Davies, Liz Flanagan, Michael Palin, Laura Cumming, Elspeth and Kate at Penguin Random House and all at David Fickling Books, for their help in getting this started.


Sunday, 3 May 2020

Collaborating With Dave McKean

Dave McKean is one of my all-time favourite artists.  I love the work he's done on books and comics by writers like Neil Gaiman, David Almond and Ray Bradbury, as well as the books and comics he's created himself.  It was a cat he drew in one of these, Cages, that made me feel he would be the perfect illustrator for Varjak Paw.


I can't honestly describe Varjak Paw as a collaboration, as such.  I was just stunned to be working with one of my favourite artists!  The first time we met, I was too in awe to suggest anything to Dave; I just gave him the words, and a fully illustrated text came back.  But his illustrations were so perfect, they seemed like they must have been part of the story all along.  And I was stunned to see how he used not just illustration but elements like layout, typography and white space to create the atmosphere of the book.


By the time I was writing Phoenix, Dave and I were collaborating closely in the course of our adventures in Hollywood and beyond, where we were trying to make a Varjak Paw movie.  All that time, I was telling him things like: "I'm writing a great big space epic about a human boy and an alien girl who have to save the galaxy!  It's full of stars, black holes, dark matter – and also all the gods of all the ancient mythologies, as imagined by aliens in the future.  Do you think you could draw that?"  


To my amazement and delight, he did.

Fortunately, Dave shares my love of both the most cutting-edge science of the stars, and the most ancient mythologies, which also tried to find meaning in the night sky.  So science and mythology inform the two strands of illustration that run through Phoenix. 




One of these strands is all about the stars.  All the time I was working on Phoenix, I was collecting images of stars.  I had a giant book of Hubble Space Telescope photography in front of me as I wrote Phoenix, and then I gave it to Dave, who had it in front of him as he illustrated it.  His images erupt into the text whenever the main character is dreaming of the stars or flying through them as he crosses the galaxy, using alien technology to follow the invisible dark matter connections that unite everything in the universe. 



It was Dave's idea to use fractal patterns to illustrate these connections.  What neither of us knew was that Dave's visualisation of dark matter would look astonishingly similar to the first images of a cosmic web of dark matter made by astronomers, not long after the book was published!


The other strand of illustration in Phoenix draws on mythology.  The aliens in Phoenix believe that all the mythological gods are really stars who come down from the sky to walk among us.  They take different forms in different times, but they're always the same immortal beings, returning again and again through history.  The aliens call them the Twelve Astraeus.

Originally, I wrote lots of material about the Twelve Astraeus, to explain this background.  But it was impossible to find words powerful enough to describe them.  After all, gods and stars should be mysterious and awe-inspiring beyond words! 



Then I came up with the idea of describing them through illustrations and song fragments, rather than prose.  I gave Dave a list of the Twelve Astraeus, with their names and attributes in different mythologies (Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and so on), and asked him to make a series of illustrations depicting each one in turn.

I wrote song fragments to go with the pictures, which give you little hints about them.  So when readers encounter the Astraeus of Love, for example, they can work out for themselves that she's been called Venus, Aphrodite, Ishtar, Astarte, and so on; and even if they don't, they'll feel who she is, without being told.  I find that more powerful than ordinary prose, and having seen what Dave could do on the Varjak Paw books, I designed the structure of Phoenix around this series of illustrations, which became an integral part of the narrative.



As a huge Dave McKean fan myself, it's been such a privilege to share this journey with him.  We once did an event together in London, talking about the process of collaborating to create illustrated books.  Someone in the audience asked him what his favourite work was of all the illustration he'd ever done.  Among the books he named was Phoenix!  Hearing him say that was one of the nicest things that's ever happened to me.