Monday, 15 December 2014

Phoenix paperback finally available!

I'm thrilled to announce that the paperback of my new book Phoenix is now available!  I'd really appreciate it if you could spread this news, any way you can...


You should be able to find the Phoenix paperback in your local bookshop; if they don't have it in stock, please order it from them.  Or you can click here to go to my publisher's page, where the big red 'Buy Now' button will give you lots of options of how & where to buy it, with links to Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwells, Amazon etc, as well as independent bookshops via Hive.


Phoenix is a story about a human boy who has the power of a star, and an alien girl who is the most brilliant warrior in the galaxy.  I think it's my best book so far, and if you've enjoyed Varjak Paw, I hope you'll enjoy it too.  It's fully and beautifully illustrated by Dave McKean, who also did the illustrations in Varjak Paw.  Here's his amazing book trailer for Phoenix!


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

School Visits: St. John's Catholic Primary School

I'd like to say a very big thanks to Ashley Booth and all the fantastic readers I met at St. John's Catholic Primary School last week.  I had the pleasure of talking to Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 about writing, and I was incredibly impressed to see such enthusiasm and passion for reading and books!


It was an honour to sign copies of Varjak Paw and Phoenix at the end.  But one thing I didn't get to do was show the Phoenix book trailer, made by the brilliant Dave McKean – so here it is!


It was great to hear so many terrific questions during the visit, so if anyone from St. John's would like to ask me any more questions, or to share any thoughts about the visit or about books, just leave me a comment below!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

School Visits: Laleham C of E Primary

I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone at Laleham C of E Primary, which I had the great pleasure of visiting last week! It was fantastic to meet so many brilliant readers in Years 6, 5, 4 and 3, and to see all the enthusiasm for books and reading out there.


There wasn't enough time to answer all the questions that everyone had, so if anyone has a question they would like to ask, this is the place to ask it!  And there's a short film I wanted to show you, but didn't have time, so here it is – the brilliant Phoenix book trailer, made by Dave McKean!


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Phoenix paperback!

Exciting news – the Phoenix paperback is now available for pre-order!  Click here to go to my publisher's page, where the 'Buy Now' button will give you links to all the places you can order it: independent bookshops via Hive, as well as Foyles, Waterstones, Amazon etc.  It features a stunning new cover by Dave McKean:


And a back cover with some of the most amazing reviews I've ever received!  When Jacqueline Wilson says "Phoenix is brilliant – a total page-turner" and Frank Cottrell Boyce describes it as "Big, bold, beautiful. Great to read aloud. A wonder to hold in your hand" – you know you must have done something right!


Saturday, 8 November 2014

An Epigraph for Phoenix

If you've read Phoenix, you may have noticed that it doesn't have an epigraph.



An epigraph is a quote that goes at the beginning of a book. I'm a big fan of epigraphs, and usually like to use them. In Varjak Paw, I quoted The Wizard Of Oz: "There's no place like home." In The Outlaw Varjak Paw, I quoted Anne Carson's translation of Sappho:




I had many ideas for Phoenix epigraphs. But in the end, I wanted the universe of Phoenix to be its own universe. From the moment you opened the book, I wanted you to be deep in space, among the stars. Any epigraph felt like would take away from that feeling, so I decided not to have one.



If there had been an epigraph, though, there were three possibilities I was seriously considering.  The first was a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poem is called That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection and you can read it in full here. The part I might have quoted for Phoenix was this:

"Man, how fast his firedint, his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart's-clarion! Away grief's gasping, joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world's wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond."
I'll make another blog about the other two possibilities soon!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Writing Tips #4: See Where The Strength Is

People sometimes ask me for writing tips, so I'm doing a series of them on this blog.  If you want to read the previous ones, they're here.  They talk about the process of getting an idea, and writing a first draft.  This one is about what happens after you've finished your first draft.

The important thing now is to get distance on your story.  Take some time away from it, until you can read it as if someone else had written it.  Stop being the writer, and become the reader.  And then, as the reader, ask yourself all the questions you ask of every other book you read.  What works?  What doesn't?  What should there be more of?  And less of?  Once you can answer these questions, you'll know what to do on the second draft.  You become the writer again, and do everything you can to make it more like the book you want to read.


This process has been beautifully described by Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping, Gilead, Home and Lila, who teaches creative writing at the University Of Iowa.  She discussed it in The Paris Review Interviews Vol. IV, and I like what she says so much that I'm going to quote it in full:

INTERVIEWER
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students? 
ROBINSON
I try to make writers actually see what they have written, where the strength is. Usually in fiction there's something that leaps out – an image or a moment that is strong enough to center the story. If they can see it, they can exploit it, enhance it, and build a fiction that is subtle and new. I don't try to teach technique, because frankly most technical problems go away when a writer realizes where the life of a story lies. I don't see any reason in fine-tuning something that's essentially not going anywhere anyway.  What they have to do first is interact in a serious way with what they're putting on a page. When people are fully engaged with what they're writing, a striking change occurs, a discipline of language and imagination.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Varjak Paw Around The World, #7

#7: Finland


One of the nicest things about publishing a book is watching it travel the world. Varjak Paw has been translated into many languages; there are many editions around the world, and I've been doing a series of posts about them all. This week, I'm looking at the Finnish edition of Varjak Paw, where he's called Varjak Käpälä!




The front and back covers are very similar to the British editions, although the text is obviously in Suomi.  The interiors are similar too, with all of Dave McKean's beautiful artwork retained.  But I was excited to learn that The Wizard Of Oz becomes Ozin velho in Suomi!


Like Varjak Paw, The Outlaw Varjak Paw is published in Finland by Gummerus.  Again, the Finnish edition retains all of Dave McKean's beautiful art.



I've had some wonderful comments on this blog from readers in Finland, and I would be really interested to hear more about the translation, and about Finnish readers' experiences of Varjak Paw.  So please do leave me a comment if you've read the Finnish edition – or just say hei!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Everybody Wants To Be A Cat!

Last night, I had the absolute honour of attending Varjak Paw: The Musical, staged by the amazing Year 6 at New North Academy, and directed by the brilliant Fiona Gunn-Stokes!


I visited New North Academy earlier this year; here's the blog I wrote about it at the time.  You can see from all the comments just what a fantastic group of readers and writers they are.  So when they told me they were going to do a musical production of Varjak Paw as their end of year show, I couldn't wait!


It was absolutely brilliant.  They did both Varjak Paw and The Outlaw Varjak Paw in one great big epic story; and they did musical numbers including Everybody Wants To Be A Cat, Love Cats, and Stray Cat Strut!


There were fantastic costumes, make-up and sets; brilliant acting, singing and dancing; terrific use of video for the dream sequences...  it had everything you would want from a stage show!  But for an author to see his characters brought to life like that – it was an incredible experience.  I have to admit, I got quite emotional watching it... though I was definitely not the only one!


So I would like to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone involved – and good luck with everything you go on to do in your lives.  I think you are absolute superstars.  Keep the Way alive!


Friday, 18 July 2014

School Visit: Greengate Juniors & Barrow Island Primary

I'd like to say a big thank you to Paula Hillman, and to everyone I met at Greengate Juniors, for giving me such a warm welcome when I visited Barrow-in-Furness last week!  And thanks to Steve Hillman for taking these fantastic photos, and making the visit possible by driving me all the way from Lancaster!


This was an unusual visit for me, because it was organised through Twitter, where I post as @whatSFSaid.  I'd been reading amazing tweets from @GreengateJ describing all the fantastic work that Year 6 had been doing with Varjak Paw – so when Paula invited me to visit and see for myself, I couldn't say no!


It was wonderful to see all the enthusiasm for books and reading in Year 6 – and also Year 4 from Barrow Island Primary School, who joined the visit too, along with their teacher Mrs McVea-Roberts!  It was a real pleasure to sign books for everyone at the end.  Thank you all for your brilliant questions and stories – and keep the Way alive!


And for more photos & information – see this lovely blog about the visit!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

School Visits: Nelson Primary, and Little Star Writers

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Mel Taylor of Little Star Writing, who organised a fantastic author event for me at Nelson Primary School last week (and took all these awesome photos!) – and thank you to all the brilliant Year 6s, 5s, 4s and 3s I met, who gave me such a warm welcome!


It was wonderful to see so much enthusiasm for books and reading!  In fact, there were so many brilliant questions, we didn't have time to answer them all.  So if anyone out there still has any questions, either about my books or about writing in general, this is the place to ask them.  Just leave me a comment below, and I'll be happy to answer!


It was then a real pleasure to join Mel and the Little Star Writers for a creative writing workshop.  I heard some truly amazing stories, including one that I will never forget, written from the point of view of a pair of scissors!  It was inspiring to see such creativity in action, and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did!



Sunday, 22 June 2014

School Visits: Highgate Junior School

I'd like to say a big thank you to Penny Casey and all the fantastic Year 4s & 3s for giving me such a brilliant welcome when I visited Highgate Junior school last month.  But I'd like to say an extra big thank you to Atyeo Thomas du Toit of Year 4, without whom the visit would never have happened!


Normally, I'm invited to visit schools by teachers who are doing my books with their class.  But this time, I was invited by one of the students, Atyeo, who'd discovered my books on his own, and then left me this wonderful message on the 'Author Visits' page on this site, asking if I'd come and visit:


I thought that sounded great, and was delighted to organise the visit through the school librarian.  It was a real pleasure to come and meet such brilliant readers, and to talk about writing and books.  I hope everyone has been enjoying their copies of Phoenix and Varjak Paw...  And if anyone else out there has read one of my books and would like to organise a visit – leave me a message, and it might just happen!


Monday, 19 May 2014

The weRead Book Award


I'm absolutely thrilled that Phoenix has been shortlisted for the weRead Book Award! This is an unusual award because it's decided by young readers. I think that's a brilliant idea, and I'd like to ask all my readers to consider getting involved with it. You can do this by writing a review of one or more of the books on the shortlist – as many as you like.


I find it strange that most book prizes for young readers are decided not by actual readers, but by adult judges. I feel this is unfair. Whenever I visit schools and meet readers, I'm always inspired by their passion for books, their enthusiasm for reading, and their sheer intelligence. I've had amazing conversations with young readers up and down the country, and I think they have so much to say that normally never gets heard.


That's why I'm so proud that Varjak Paw won the Smarties Prize and The Outlaw Varjak Paw won the Blue Peter Book Of The Year: because both of those were voted for by young readers. And that means more than you can imagine.


The shortlist for the weRead Book Award is amazingly strong. As well as Phoenix, there are books by great authors like Malorie Blackman, Anthony Horowitz, Jonathan Stroud, Elizabeth Wein and Matthew Crow. There's bound to be at least one book on the list that you enjoy! So if you'd like to take part and make your voice heard – the deadline for sending reviews is June 20th 2014, and here's a link to the page explaining how to do it

Sunday, 18 May 2014

School Visits: St Joseph's Catholic Primary School

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Rebecca England and all the fantastic Year 5s & 4s I met at St Joseph's Catholic Primary School last week!


It was a brilliant visit for me, because Year 4 were reading Varjak Paw, while Year 5 were reading Phoenix.  I saw some incredible work that they'd been doing: not only with my words, but also with Dave McKean's illustrations.


I'd like to thank you all for your fantastic questions and stories, and to wish you good luck with your reading, writing and art!  I know we didn't have enough time to answer all the questions, so if anyone has something they'd like to ask, or anything they'd like to say about the visit or the books, this is the place to do it!



Monday, 14 April 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Just for this week, I’ve joined the Writing Process Blog Tour. This is a worldwide event where writers share insights into their work by answering the same four questions. I was introduced to this tour by my Twitter-friend and Young Adult writer, Antonia Lindsay. Check out her Writing Process blog here.


What am I working on?

Right now, I'm about 3/4 the way through draft 3a of a new book called TYGER. I can't say too much about it, as my books always change a lot as I write them, but I can tell you this: it's a story set in a parallel world; one of the main characters is a tiger; and I'm really enjoying it!

I started thinking about this parallel world about 25 years ago. About 6 years ago, I found a story to set in that world.  And about a year ago, when I finished Phoenix, I started to write it.


This is a very different process for me. Usually, I start with characters, and then the world develops around them. With Varjak Paw, it all began with the idea of a kitten leaving home for the first time in his life.  With Phoenix, it began with the idea of a boy going on an epic quest to find his absent father.

But in the case of TYGER, it all started with the world, and the writing process feels very different. More solid, somehow – though that might just be because I'm a more experienced writer now!


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have to admit, I don't really think of my books in terms of genre. Varjak Paw and Phoenix might seem different in genre terms – an animal story and a space epic – but to me, they're very similar. They're both stories about characters who feel small in a big world; characters who don't start out with power, but have to find a way to save the day.


I think of my books as places where I can put all my favourite things. I enjoy reading all sorts of genres: sci-fi and fantasy, adventure stories, horror, realist fiction, historical fiction, romance, crime, animal stories, martial arts stories, superhero stories, ancient myths… I just love stories, of whatever genre!


So I think that although I use elements from lots of genres, in the end, the stories I'm trying to write are 'my' stories; stories that no-one else could write.


Why do I write what I do?

I think you can only really write what you love. I've tried writing other things, but it doesn't work for me. I always go back to the single best piece of writing advice I've ever heard, which is by JD Salinger.


"If only you'd remember before ever you sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world would you most want to read if you had your heart's choice? The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself."

How does my writing process work?

Drafts, drafts and more drafts. On a first draft, I just try to have fun. I set myself an achievable target - 1000 words a day, or 4 sides of A4. In this period, I don't edit or look back, and I don't ask myself if what I'm writing is any good – I just move forwards.  If I think of something that needs to be changed, I make a note about it in a notebook, and move on until I reach the end of the story.

Then I have a break, and re-read what I've written – but as if I was the reader, not the writer. I ask myself what I would want to see different here, as a reader – and my answers to that question form the basis of the next draft. I go all the way through it, finding any possible way I can to make it better.  At this point, I'll often make big structural plans.  Here again, notebooks are very useful!  I think it's helpful to have a good notebook by your side, so here's one I've used for TYGER:


I go through this process again and again until I can find no possible way to improve the story; until it has all the effects on me as a reader that I want it to have. Then I show it my agents and my editors, and we go through the process all over again! As many times as it takes, until everyone feels it's as brilliant as it can be.

Only then do we publish it. Many, many drafts will have happened by this point. That's why my books take such a long time! I complain about it a lot, but the final draft is always the best, and it always feels worth it in the end.



If you want to know more about my writing process, I'm doing a series of writing tips here on my blog, and I also talk about it on Twitter, where you can find me as @whatSFSaid.

And now I’m handing over the Blog Tour baton to another friend and fellow writer who will share his thoughts next Monday: Joe Craig, author of the Jimmy Coates books. Here's Joe's own introduction:


Joe Craig writes novels, songs and movies. He’s best known for the Jimmy Coates thrillers, which The Times calls ‘The Bourne Identity for kids... Pure gold’. He lives in London with his wife (broadcaster/adventurer Mary-Ann Ochota), his dog (Harpo the labradonkey) and his dwarf crocodile (Professor Sven). His website is www.joecraig.co.uk and on twitter, facebook and instagram, he’s @joecraiguk

Saturday, 12 April 2014

School Visits: Foxford School

Most of the schools I visit are primary schools.  I love them, but I love visiting secondary schools too, and I'm always very glad to be invited to one.  So I'd like to say an extra-big thank you to the brilliant Hannah Thomson and Foxford School, who I had the enormous pleasure of visiting this week!


I met some outstanding readers and writers at Foxford, mainly from Years 7 and 8, but also some in later years including Year 11, which was fantastic.  There were also some visitors from Holbrook Primary School and Grangehurst Primary School, mainly from Year 6.  We talked about Varjak Paw and Phoenix, and the process of becoming a writer.


I was asked lots of great questions, including one about the ending of Phoenix which made me really happy, as the ending was something that took a long time to get right.  It was an absolute pleasure at the end of the day to sign copies of Phoenix for students, and on their way out, a lot of people told me how inspired they felt by the visit.  All I can say is that I felt exactly the same – so thank you to everyone who made it such an inspiring day!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

School Visits: Yeomoor Primary

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Matt Walker and all the Year 4s and 3s I had the pleasure of visiting at Yeomoor Primary last week!  It was a great visit, and a really warm welcome – I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you all!


It was fantastic to see all the work you'd been doing on Varjak Paw, and to hear such enthusiasm for reading and books in general.  It was also very inspiring and encouraging for me as a writer to see the brilliant reactions of Year 4 to my reading from my new book Phoenix!  If you'd like to know more about it, here's a short book trailer that Dave McKean made, which brings the opening of the book to life with animation based on his original illustrations:


I'd love to hear what you think if you have a chance to read it!  And if anyone would like to leave me a comment about any of my books, or about the visit, this is the place to do it!

Friday, 28 March 2014

School Visits: Wix Primary School / École de Wix

I'd like to say a big thank you and merci to Schnell Donacien and the fantastic Year 4s of Wix Primary School / École de Wix, who I had the pleasure of visiting last week!


It was wonderful to meet so many great readers and writers, and to be asked so many interesting and thoughtful questions.  It was also very nice to hear how much everyone had been enjoying Varjak Paw and Phoenix.  One Year 4 told me he read Phoenix in just 5 days!  Given that it's 490 pages long, that's an amazing compliment for a writer to hear!


Thank you all again for your wonderful warm welcome.  And if anyone at Wix would like to make a comment about the visit or my books, this is the place to do it – I love hearing from readers!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Writing Tips #3: The Secret Of The First Draft

So here's the third tip I would give any writer (if you want to know the first two, they're here).

On a first draft, give yourself a daily minimum word count: something you can easily do.  The amount will be different for everyone, but I usually aim for 4 sides of A4 – 1,000 words.  If I feel like doing more, that's fine, but it doesn't mean I can do less tomorrow; I have to do at least 4 sides a day.  While I'm doing this, I don't look back or edit or even wonder if what I'm writing is any good.  I just write 4 sides a day, every day, picking up where I left off yesterday, always moving the story forwards.  

Every time I stick to this, within a couple of months, an amazing amount of writing has somehow happened.  That's how I wrote the first drafts of Varjak Paw and Phoenix, and that's the secret of how to do a first draft.  Don't judge it, don't worry about it: just get those words down on the page, whatever they are.  Momentum is everything.  If you try to edit while you're writing a first draft, chances are you'll never finish it.  But keep moving forwards, and you'll reach the end before you know it.  

Then it's time for the next draft... which I'll talk about in the next writing tip!


Monday, 17 March 2014

World Book Week 2014

Every year, World Book Day gets bigger and bigger.  This year, it became an entire week!  I was honoured to take part in a special video made by The Guardian to celebrate the occasion.  Along with my fellow authors Jacqueline Wilson and Jim Smith, I was interviewed by a reader dressed as a character from my books: in my case, Varjak Paw!  The video is here and is absolutely fantastic; there's also a full transcript of the interview that you can read here.


I also visited many schools, and met lots and lots of great readers and writers!  First up was Our Lady Queen Of Heaven Primary School in Wimbledon, where I met Years 6, 5, 4 and 3.  It was brilliant to see so many Varjak Paw fans, and so many people interested in my new book Phoenix.  For anyone who missed it, here's the Phoenix book trailer again:


On World Book Day itself, I visited Montem Primary School in Islington, and talked to Years 6, 5 and 4.  It was inspiring to see so much enthusiasm for books and reading – and I was delighted to see a tiger on the way out of the school, because the new book that I'm working on is called TYGER!


Finally, I visited Friars Primary School in Waterloo, where I met Years 6 and 5, many of whom had read both Varjak Paw and The Outlaw Varjak Paw, and some of whom I understand are now reading Phoenix!  I hope you all enjoy it... and I hope that everyone I met had a totally brilliant World Book Week!