Thursday 26 December 2013

End Of The Year Round-Up

So after seven long years of writing, this was the year that my new book Phoenix was finally published!  It's been amazing to see it get some fantastic reviews, and even appear on some Book Of The Year lists...

The Guardian picked Phoenix in their Best Children's Literature Of 2013 selection, where Michelle Pauli described it as an "epic space quest", and said: "Not only is the story of boy hero Lucky's journey through galaxies completely absorbing, launching the reader into an alien world with its own mythology, but the book is beautiful – lavishly illustrated by Dave McKean, with words and pictures working seamlessly together." (Click the links to read the full reviews)

Metro picked it in their Top 20 Books Of 2013, where Imogen Russell-Williams described it as "fierily poetic on a galactic scale... totally transporting – as are McKean’s space-spanning illustrations."

Phoenix featured in the Independent On Sunday's Christmas Books, where Daniel Hahn described it as: "A powerful story of great scope and ambition, from an expert storyteller. And with these gorgeously deep black-and-white illustrations, the great McKean is on absolutely top form here."

I've been delighted to see Phoenix appear on some excellent book blogs recently. Georgia Walters of Books and Writers JNR featured it on her End Of The Year Books Survey, alongside books by writers like Patrick Ness and John Green. She gave Phoenix a fabulous five-star review, and said: "I feel in love with this story... HIGHLY recommended for any sci-fi fans, fantasy fans, etc., out there- and also anybody who wants a new favourite book (:"

Phoenix was also featured in Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books Favourites Of 2013; and Mr Ripley was kind enough to offer me a guest spot on his blog. So I wrote a piece about the inspirations behind Phoenix, where I talked a lot about collaborating with the great Dave McKean.  Definitely worth reading if you want to know some behind-the-scenes stuff about how the book was made!

The Book Addicted Girl also kindly offered me a guest spot on her blog, for her 'Book Addicted Boys' feature.  So this time, I wrote a piece about space stories, and why I love them

Sister Spooky gave Phoenix a lovely review, where she said: "I zoomed through Phoenix... [It] will tickle fans of Doctor Who and Star Wars that love a bit of adventure with a dash of morality."  I also did Sister Spooky's fab Twenty Random Questions interview, so if you'd like to know my answers to questions like "What superpowers would you have?", click the link to find out!

Finally, I was knocked out to see Phoenix reviewed in Interzone, a great science fiction magazine I used to read in the 1990s! Barbara Melville gave it a fantastic review, in which she said: "Not only does it break new territory – epic space adventures are, after all, not in abundance on the children’s shelf – but it is layered with depth and meaning right from the get go... These multilayered themes and ideas, reinforced by strong characterisation, make this book shine. It could have worked without them, making for a fun but depthless guilty pleasure. I’m glad Said picked the path he did. The result is a touching, meaningful story for children and adults alike." 

Unfortunately Interzone is not available online, but if you'd like a print copy, you can get one here.

I'd like to say a huge & heartfelt thanks to all these writers for taking the time to read Phoenix, engage with it, and write such lovely things about it!  You have no idea how much it means to see someone take your work seriously; it really makes those seven years feel worthwhile! 

Sunday 15 December 2013

Author Visits: Hazelwick Book Awards & Greenfield Community College

My school visits have taken me to many primary schools over the years. But last week, I visited two secondaries, and absolutely loved the experience!  So if there are any more secondary schools out there who would like me to visit, just get in touch.

On Monday, I visited Greenfield Community College, and met lots of fantastic readers and writers from Years 8, 9, 10 & 11.  It was totally brilliant to meet you all, to hear your stories, and to see the amazing work you've been doing with my new book Phoenix. I heard some really excellent pieces of creative writing during the day, saw some fabulous artwork – and was presented with incredible cakes shaped exactly like Axxa eyeballs!  Fortunately they were delicious...

On Wednesday, I visited Hazelwick School, for the Hazelwick Book Awards.  I met lots of awesome Year 7s from Hazelwick, as well as students from many other local schools, who are all voting in the Awards.  There were many interesting questions and discussions, and much enthusiasm for reading and books, which was great to see!

If anyone from any of those schools would like to leave me a comment about the visit, or my books, this is the place to do it!  In the meantime, I'd like to wish you all Happy Reading!

Friday 29 November 2013

Writing Tips #1: Finding Your Story

People often ask me for writing advice. So I'm doing a series of posts here, where I'll be giving my own tips, and collecting some favourites that have inspired me.

I'm beginning with my all-time favourite piece of writing advice. I like it so much, I have it pinned up on the wall of my study.  It was written by JD Salinger, in his novella Seymour: an Introduction.
"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."

Monday 25 November 2013

School Visits: Christ Church Primary, Crowland Primary & Beckford Primary

I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone I've met on school visits in the last couple of weeks!  Firstly, all the Year 4s & 5s at Christ Church Primary.

It was great visit, very enjoyable indeed!  It was amazing for me to meet people who were already reading Phoenix, and really interesting to hear about all the other things you've been reading and writing.  If you have any more questions or things you'd like to say about my books or about the visit, this is the place to do it!

I'd also like to say thank you to all the Year 6s at Crowland Primary, who gave me a great welcome on Friday!  I've had a couple of lovely comments already from Crowland students on this site:
Dear SF Said thank you for coming to Crowland primary school.For answering all are questions and reading a little of your new book Phoenix. 
Dear SF Said I really enjoyed your visit our school Crowland Primary School. I hope you can try to have a look at the question sheet I gave you. i didn't tell you my name but I am Tran. From Parrot class. I hope you had a great time to. I hope you can visit again. have a Great evening
Thank you both very much!  And Tran, thank you for your questions.  There are quite a lot of them, so I can't answer them all, but I will answer this one:
Do you have any advice for writing a great story or book?
Yes, I have lots of advice!  Actually, people ask me this question quite often, so I'm going to start doing a series of blog posts about it.  I think I'll call the series "About Writing", and hopefully I'll make the first post this week – so please come back next weekend and have a look and see!

Finally, I'd like to say a big thank you to all the Year 4s at Beckford Primary who I met today!  It was great to hear all your questions and thoughts about Varjak Paw and Phoenix.  And, given the fantastic painting in the entrance to your school (see above), you may be interested to know that the new book I'm writing at the moment is called TYGER!

Sunday 17 November 2013

Authors For The Philippines

Here's an amazing initiative to raise money for the Red Cross’s Typhoon Haiyan Appeal, to get aid to the people most affected by the typhoon in the Philippines.  A bunch of authors have donated items to an online charity auction.  Anyone can bid for them, from now until Wednesday 20th November.  If you win an auction, you'll receive the item, and all the money will go to the Typhoon Appeal!

I've donated the following items:

Signed first edition hardbacks of Varjak Paw & The Outlaw Varjak Paw - very rare these days! Unlike the paperbacks, the dream sequences are in colour (amber in the first book, blue in the second!) 

Signed first edition hardback of Phoenix - will be rare one day soon!  

Note: All these books will be double-signed: once by me, once by the brilliant Dave McKean.  We've hardly ever double-signed books before, so these will be super-rare!

Many other authors & illustrators have donated fantastic items: Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, etc etc... Please please please, go to the site, have a look, and make a bid  – it couldn't be for a better cause!

Thursday 14 November 2013

Video Review, plus Questions & Answers!

Here's a fantastic video review of Phoenix, by the brilliant book blogger Leena Norms – justkissmyfrog on YouTube.  I love the way she talks about children's books, with real passion and intelligence, and I love what she says about Phoenix, comparing it to Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, among other things!  She's great on Dave McKean's artwork too; it's really worth watching, check it out:

Leena also interviewed me, and asked some very interesting questions, about both Phoenix and Varjak Paw – covering subjects like world-building, martial arts, character creation and collaboration with Dave McKean. Read the full interview here!

Photo © Leena Norms
Meanwhile, I received a lovely message on this site from a reader in France.  He writes:
Dear SF Said,
Hello, my name is Victor, i live in France... and I have some questions to ask you if you don’t mind. I know that you may not have time to reply my message, but it’ll be the best if you reply, I will be soooooo excited!
Hi Victor! Many thanks for your message, and your questions. I don't think I can answer all of them, as there were lots & lots, but I'll answer a few!
When is Varjak Paw 3 coming out? What will it be about? Will there be a Varjak Paw collection (Varjak Paw 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.......)?
There will definitely be a third Varjak Paw book, but I don't think there'll be more. You see, in the first book, he's a kitten.  In the second, he's an adult cat. In the third book, I think he'll be an old cat, like the Elder Paw or Jalal. But to write a book about an old character, I need to be old myself, to know what it feels like. I'm getting there, but I'm not quite ready yet! In the meantime, if you enjoyed Varjak Paw, I hope you'll read Phoenix – I think it's the best book I've written so far!
How do you write a book? How long does it take to write a book like varjak paw?
I work every day – I go to the library, and I sit there and write until I've done my work. I do that every day (except weekends & holidays!) I write in drafts, and with each draft, I try to make the story better, with the aim of getting to the point where I can't find any way to make it any better. That takes a long time. Varjak Paw took five years; The Outlaw Varjak Paw took three; and Phoenix took seven! I wish I was quicker, but that's how long it took me to make those stories as good as I could. 
What methods do you use for writing such so interesting books?- I even think your books are better than Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo’s books!! The books you wrote are the best books I’ve ever read!!
Thank you, that's an amazing compliment, though I can't agree about the other authors, because they're among my own all-time favourites! I think the best thing a writer can do is to read a lot. Every writer is really just a reader who's decided to write the books they want to read, the ones that don't exist yet. I have many favourite authors; some others are Ursula Le Guin, Peter Dickinson, Philip Pullman... I could go on... So my advice to anyone who wants to write would be to read as much as you can; be prepared to do lots of work; and never give up!

Thursday 7 November 2013

School Visit: Hillhouse Primary

I'd like to say a big thank you to the brilliant Zoe Heffer and all the Year 4s and 3s I met at Hillhouse Primary yesterday for giving me such a great welcome!

It was wonderful to meet you all, and to see the fantastic work you've been doing on Varjak Paw and The Outlaw Varjak Paw!  I had some lovely comments on my site even before the visit, and some more lovely comments since:
HI SF SAID i am mollieanne it was really fun when u came into my school today thankyou very much for signing my book today i really want to read your new book phoenix it sounds really interesting and yes i will keep the way alive and again thankyou from mollie
Hello Mr SF Said. Thank you for visiting Hillhouse primary school today. I hope you had a nice time talking about your writing and signing our books. You are my favourite writer and I enjoyed reading about Varjak Paw. I hope you write more Varjak Paw books. Thank you from Jasmine
Mollie and Jasmine, thank you so much!  Messages like that really mean a huge amount to me...  I hope you enjoy reading Phoenix too – let me know if you do!  And if anyone else would like to leave a comment about the visit or my books, this is the place to do it!

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Libraries & Librarians, Carnegies & Greenaways...

I'm a little stunned today, because I just found out that Phoenix has been nominated for both the CILIP Carnegie Medal for outstanding children's books, and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.

This is huge to me.  The Carnegie and Greenaway Medals are some of the biggest awards a book can be nominated for – but more importantly, they're nominated by librarians, and librarians are among the most important people in my world.  Because I write in libraries.  I love libraries.  Phoenix would literally not exist without them.

You see, I'm not disciplined enough to work at home.  I waste whole days looking at the internet, having baths, etc.  But in a library, I don't mess around; I get down to work.  It's quiet, and everyone else is working, so I feel it's only right that I should too.

I can't claim that libraries  shaped my childhood.  My family was a migrant one; we came to Britain when I was two years old, and older members of my family never lost the sense that some things out there were "for the British, not for us".  Among these were the NHS and public libraries; so sadly, we never used them.

Andrew Carnegie

Instead, I discovered libraries as an adult who was finding it impossible to work at home, and losing my way as a result.  Libraries saved me.  They gave me a quiet space to work in, with a nice big desk and lots of handy research material – and crucially, opening hours.  Because once you decide that you work in a library, you can't put your work off until midnight; the library isn't open at midnight.  You've got to get it done during the day.  That really helps keep you sane and disciplined when you're writing something that takes years.

I don't even talk to anyone when I go to the library.  I just show up, do my work, and go home.  I'm just another public library user, and I love that. 

Kate Greenaway

The most familiar faces for me are the librarians.  They're unsung heroes, in our culture – even more so in recent years, with all the cuts – but I see what they do, day in, day out.  They are brilliant.  Absolutely brilliant.  They're the ones who create this amazing space where reading is valued, where books are the most important things in the world.  Can you imagine what that means to someone whose whole life is focused on writing books?  Librarians are total stars, as far as I'm concerned, and without them my work would never get done.

So this is a massive thank you to all the libraries I've written in, to all the librarians who created that space – and to whoever noticed Phoenix, and nominated it for these awards.  It means more to me than you can possibly imagine. 

Friday 1 November 2013

Phoenix news, reviews & interviews...

There's been more coverage of my new book Phoenix, so it's time for another update of reviews & interviews... Click the links to read the full pieces!

Louise Ellis-Barrett of Armadillo children's book magazine interviewed Dave McKean and myself at the London ComicCon back in July. The full interview appears in the autumn 2013 issue, where she writes:
"Phoenix is a delicately balanced book, a work of love, a delicate, complex and yet balanced world, a blend of story and illustration... It was worth the 7 years of work!"

Meanwhile Phoenix received five stars in the children's book magazine Books For Keeps, and a wonderful review from Ferelith Hordon, which means a lot to me, as she is one of Britain's most distinguished children's librarians. She writes:
"It is exciting to see the partnership between S. F. Said and Dave McKean back and the combination is as dynamic as before. The plot is full of action... Sentences are short, description is kept to the minimum and is delivered with confidence while there is plenty of dialogue, ensuring the story moves along briskly. All of this will make it attractive to young readers who will find it easy to identify with the characters... Throughout, the text is intertwined - invaded even - by McKean's trademark black and white illustrations. Except here these are more than illustrations, picking up as they do elements of the narrative, driving it on, creating visual excitement and tension through images that have form and at the same time the formless energy of the universe." 

There was an excellent post by Jake Hayes of the beautiful book blog tygertale - particularly exciting for me as the working title of my next book is TYGER! He writes:
"This is a sprawling, big hearted space opera written with the ambition of Star Wars, imbued with the emotion of E.T., shot through with the grit of Alien and the downbeat mood of Moon... It's a thing of beauty, a masterclass of how text and image can work together for a slightly older audience."

There've also been three reviews in recent days from young readers, which I have to say, I value more than anything. Two of these appeared on the Guardian Children's Books site. First BookTrain125 wrote:
"Phoenix is an amazing book. It really grabbed my attention. If adventure is what you want, this is the book for you! It's gripping and I could not put it down. It was absolutely irresistible."
Then Wizard wrote:
"I thought that Phoenix was an absolutely fabulous book... Normally I am not too keen on science-fiction books but this book was an exception. When I started reading, I just couldn't stop! Phoenix is one of the best books I have ever read!!!!!!"

And finally, 11 year old book blogger Louis of Home For Bookworms gave Phoenix a 10/10 review:
"I really liked this book because Lucky is a great super hero for kids, someone who puts others first. People who like SCI FI and adventure novels and are Varjak Paw fans will enjoy this too."
 Please share these links if you like them – it would really help to spread the word about Phoenix!

Sunday 27 October 2013

School Visit: Trafalgar Junior School

I'd like to say a huge thank you to the brilliant Richard Smith and everyone I met at Trafalgar Junior School on Thursday evening.  It was a very special occasion for me, because I visited the school back in 2005 – when my last book, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, was published.  I had no idea then that it would take so long to write Phoenix!

I'd particularly like to thank Ed and Jack for their introduction!  I really enjoyed meeting everyone, and hearing all your questions, and signing your books...  Most of all, the school guest book, where I saw that some of my own favourite authors had visited recently: David Almond, Sally Gardner, Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell...  I hope you enjoy my books as much as I enjoy theirs!

It was also great to meet Isla Dawes of Kew Bookshop, who runs three brilliant bookshops in Kew, Barnes & Sheen, and did a fantastic job at the event; and Melanie Taylor of the wonderful Little Star Writing, who not only ran a creative writing workshop at the school earlier in the day, but also took all these pictures!  So many thanks to them, and to everyone I met for making it such a special evening!  The final word goes to Sam Allen of Year 4, who left me this amazing comment the next day:
Thank you for visiting our school yesterday evening - it was a very special treat to get a book signed by you on my birthday and it was great to say hi to you at the end. We started reading Varjak Paw straight away when we got home and can't wait to read all three! I hope you visit again before I leave the school. Sam Allen Year 4

Sunday 20 October 2013

School Visit: Prince Of Wales Primary

I just wanted to say big thank you to everyone I met at Prince Of Wales Primary last week for giving me such a great welcome!

It was brilliant to meet so many Varjak Paw fans, and to hear all your questions, both about Varjak Paw and Phoenix. If you have any more questions that we didn't have time for, this is the place to ask them... and if you wanted to see the Phoenix trailer again, here it is!

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Guardian Children's Books Podcast

Very exciting news – I'm on the Guardian Children's Books Podcast this week, talking about my new book Phoenix (and also about Varjak Paw!)   Click the link to have a listen; you can also download it & listen later if you like...

Sunday 13 October 2013

School Visits: Bury St Edmonds & London

It's been a busy week – I've visited four schools!  First up was Francis Holland School in London, where I talked to the Junior Girls, some of whom were already Varjak Paw fans!  There were lots of great questions, and lots of people interested in my new book Phoenix as well.  Among the audience was the book blogger moontrug, and she's made a fantastic post about it on her site – have a look at the link, it's really great!

Then I visited three schools in Bury St Edmonds, on a trip organised by the brilliant Philip Daws of Waterstones.  We started with Westley Middle School, where I talked to the Year 7s, and was interviewed by some Young Reporters (hopefully there'll be a link here soon, so you can see the interview!)  One of the Year 7s I met has just left me this wonderful comment here on my site:
You had an author visit at Westley in B.S.E and you were really interesting. You signed my copy of phoenix and i really enjoy it. me and my friend louis are having a competition to see who can finish it the first and im on chapter 8. I think im now going to read some more.
From Joey Turner
Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me such a brilliant comment, Joey! Good luck with your competition, I hope you and your friend enjoy the rest of Phoenix... let me know what you both think when you get to the end!

The second school we visited was Hardwick Middle School, where I talked to the Year 7s again, and had some really great questions about writing and books.  Finally, we went to St. James Middle School, where I showed the Year 7s the Phoenix book trailer.  We had a few technical problems getting it to work, so for anyone who wants to see it again, here it is:

If anyone from any of those schools would like to leave a comment about the visit, or my books, or anything else, this is the place to do it!  It's always great to hear from readers – after all those years it takes me to write a book, there is nothing nicer than someone saying that they're enjoying it!

Thursday 3 October 2013

School Visit: Belmont Primary

I just want to say a big thanks to the awesome Year 5's I met at Belmont Primary this week for giving me such a brilliant welcome!

It was amazing for me to hear all your questions and thoughts about Varjak Paw and Phoenix, and to see all the great work you've been doing...  I know we didn't have quite enough time to answer everyone's questions, so if there's anything else that anyone would like to ask or say, this is the place to do it!

Saturday 28 September 2013

Call For Help!

Something amazing has just happened – my new book Phoenix got a brilliant review in the Guardian, where Linda Buckley-Archer describes it as an "ambitious, multi-layered, action-packed adventure that will appeal to both boys and girls... stunning and uplifting"!  Please please please, if you have a moment, could you click the link and then share the review?  There are buttons there for facebook, twitter, blogs, etc... It would really help to spread the word, and would mean a huge amount to me!

There've been quite a few other wonderful reviews coming in over the last month...  Here are some of them; click the links to see full reviews, and again, please share if you can – it really helps!

Hannah Love in Inis, the Irish children's book magazine: "SF Said's new novel is beautiful, exciting and bittersweet all at once... A special read."

M of We Sat Down: "Phoenix is a soaring space quest story packed full of starry action, adventure, science, myth, colourful characters and wowsome illustrated pages.  It’s a compelling and beautiful pageturner... For me, Phoenix is this year’s A Boy and a Bear in a Boat."

(M was also kind enough to interview me, and asked some really interesting questions – you can read the interview here!)

Raimy of Readaraptor: "I can't recommend Phoenix enough... If sci-fi is your thing then Phoenix is a must-read, if sci-fi isn’t your thing then Phoenix is a should-read, trust me!"

Bella of Cheezyfeet Books: "I'm definitely recommending to all YA fans out there... With fabulous world building, great characters and an exciting plot, there's a little something for everyone and it's definitely not one to be missed!"

Thursday 19 September 2013

New Photography

I've written before on this blog about my favourite hobby, photography.  So this week I thought I'd share some Polaroid pictures I've made in various places around the world, while writing Phoenix and working on my next book...

These two were done at Stonehenge.

This one was at Angkor Wat, in Cambodia.

These two were in Greece: the Tombs of Mycenae (above), and a castle in the middle of the sea at Napflio (below).

This one was in Kerry, Ireland, right on the edge of the Atlantic.

And finally, this one was done in London, in Hyde Park, not far from where I lived in the years when I wrote The Outlaw Varjak Paw.  I hope you like them - click on the images if you want to see them nice & large!