Orangeboy – A year on in pictures.

Well – it has been an interesting few months. My second book, ‘Indigo Donut’, is published on Thursday. Time to have a look back.

My debut novel, ‘Orangeboy’, was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award for Older Fiction and The Bookseller YA Prize. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for regional awards.

I’m sitting hear on a Sunday morning, listening to Gemma Cairney on BBC 6 Music, writing these words and it still feels like someone else’s story.

But I have proof it happened. And lessons have been learnt. Here they are in pictures.

1. Launches are ace! I was lucky enough to have two.

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Launch number 1: Sharing a moment of pride with Caroline Sheldon (my agent and dress twin) and Emma Goldhawk, my editor.

And if you ask folks casually if they’ll wear something orange – they do!

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Launch 2: The youngest guest sports  a top t-shirt.

2. It’s surprising who will help promote your book, if you ask nicely.

‘Orangeboy’ is set locally in Hackney. Here are my two local MPs. And Reggie Yates. There’s also an army of book bloggers who spread the word for free, because they love books. They have my eternal gratitude.

3. Schools research you.

I am grateful my partying days were pre-camera phone and speedy upload.  Though it’s also like an unexpected archive of hairstyles past.20161202_091427

4. Folks from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) are the peer support I didn’t realise was possible.

They look out for you. They’ve got your back. They come to and take pictures at your launch. They summon up cake toppers.

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Whooo! Cake toppers!

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Writer, actor and You Tube dance stars Odette Elliott and Don

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Authors Tania Tay and Peter Bunzl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 It’s searingly lovely sharing a table with authors you admire.

It’s an odd feeling going into bookshops, seeing authors’ names and realising that you’ve stood next to them drinking wine.

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Fen and Kerry from Letterbox Library with a selection of wonderful reads from Chitra Soundar, Candy Gourlay, Catherine Johnson, Malorie Blackman and many more

6. And, you get to meet your s/heroes. Forget the old adage. Meet them. Seriously, MEET THEM.

 

7. Ben Bailey Smith AKA Doc Brown does a wicked Yoda.

My daughter, my editor and I sat in on the recording session. Up until then, I’d only heard Marlon’s voice in my head. Suddenly, his words were coming out of someone else’s mouth. And they sounded like how Marlon should sound. As you can gather, he was also very funny. Find out more about the Audible book here.

 

8. You make fantastic friends.

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Me (coming perilously close to manspreading), Sue Wallman, Eugene Lambert, Kathryn Evans, event chair, Michelle Toy and panel originator, Olivia Levez.

Writer, Olivia Levez, had the wondrous idea of assembling a panel of debut authors to tour the country to chat about publishing, editing, writing and buckets of self-doubt. One of me happiest memories is  the last twelve months, is sitting in a Premier Inn room next to a roundabout in the outskirts of Liverpool, quaffing fizzy wine and realising that the Lost and Found panellers are wonderful people. They are also SCBWI folk. So it figures.

9. Sometimes second hand shops, including over-priced ones in Brick Lane, East London, call you in at the right time.

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10. Finally, one of the happiest day’s of my life, was when my daughter was born. This young person who has inspired me so much was standing next to me when my name was called out at Waterstones.

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A very, very happy day!

Indigo Donut, my second book with young adult protagonists, is published by Hodder on 12th July 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What songs shape your stories?

20160205_095020I was asked to write a blog for World Book Day Teenfest, by coincidence on the day it was announced that Maurice White had died. I know some Earth Wind and Fire songs, but Marlon, in ‘Orangeboy’, is one of their biggest fans. So I wrote the blog about the music we inherit and the music pass on… (It is also a snapshot into hairstyles past.)

Check out the blog here.

What are your inheritance tracks?

Handcuffs and exploding hands. (Browsing history deleted.)

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Personal data’s been in the news a bit this week.  From Monday to Wednesday, I work for a charity and our office is nestled in the impressive HQ of a much larger charity.  On the ground floor there’s a big cafe showing rolling BBC news so you don’t have to make eye contact with anyone else while you’re microwaving your soup.

This week the story spelled out in hastily typed subtitles was Apple’s resistance to helping FBI officers access data on a gunman’s phone.  The corporation argues:

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.”

Now I’ve started to get rather paranoid about my own browsing history.

I wrote ‘Orangeboy‘ on our main family desk top.  The computer’s currently being repaired having forgotten how to turn itself off and, once unplugged and replugged, sulked at being turned on again. This left my own options for fixing it rather limited.

The plot of ‘Orangeboy’ evolved gradually.  In real speak, this means I had no idea what was going on until several drafts in.  I knew that it was going to be a crime-inspired story – after all, it came to life at an Arvon crime-writing course.  As the story parts were being hammered in place, the extent of my ignorance became startlingly clear.

Some of this was eased through the ‘Seven Degrees’ approach.  As I found out, you’re never a couple of degrees away from a coroner, a lawyer, a senior police officer and someone who gets sick on fairground rides.

Other pieces of research are recycled from books that never happened.  For instance, an east London cemetery has a bit of a star spot.  I felt I owed it to my daughter after making her, aged nine, follow me round City of London Cemetery and Crematorium taking pictures.  The book it was destined for was never published.  But a few years later, a second chance beckoned.

But there was other stuff.

For a start, I have never set fire to a car.  I know people who have but they refused the opportunity to tell me the details while I took copious notes.  But this is core You Tube business.

Mangled hands?  Click.  Gosh.  (But it does have relevance, honest.)

‘Orangeboy’ is a book  that explores choices.  Some of the choices potentially have unpleasant consequences.  I needed to dig out info on getting round those consequences.  And blimey, there are some innovative folk out there, albeit with ambiguous morals.

Though, no doubt the fixer guy hired by Currys PC World has his own view on my morals by now.

So, I’ve pumped friends, and friends of friends up to the seventh degree, for those reassuring details that make a good story plausible.

I’ve also fished in the seething depths of the internet and pulled out all sorts of brow-raising detritus.

But then, there’s the opportunistic ‘ask’.

You see those handcuffs in the picture?

Last September, I was trundling round London on my bike taking in some of the Open House opportunities.  On my way to queue for a basement Roman bath, I passed the Custom House.  No queue and handy railings for my bike.

The Custom House used to be the place which collected levies on goods entering London by boat.  It is still used by HM Customs and Excise.  So rather unexpectedly, I found out about sniffer dogs (how they’re acquired and trained), the range of forbidden animal-related items that are smuggled in (from endangered sturgeon’s caviar to a ruddy great big bear skin) and then, there were the weapons.

The guy displaying the weapons was a trainer.  He helped customs officers involved in raids to stay safe.  I couldn’t help lingering, or asking questions or taking lots of photos. Lots and lots of photos.  he was very helpful.  But he also looked really pleased when someone else showed interest because he moved really quickly away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a proper writer?

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Yesterday, I felt like a proper writer.  I felt so proper that I sent a text to a good friend about it, just so it was recorded for posterity.  There are certain things that should generally enhance your writer status.  These include:

Writing stuff.

I’ve been writing stuff since I was about six.  Tellingly, I only have one friend left from childhood.  I wonder if the others fell away under the weight of having to endure endless rhyming couplets about my dog, Jai.  Or the time the coffee percolator exploded.  Or even that special moment when a really big worm slopped on to my mum’s bare foot in Italy.  (Oh, happy days.)

There are other reasons why I could have claimed proper writerliness.  I read out my poem about Romans in Fishbourne at a parents’ evening.  (And believe me, my school was hot on quality control.)  And another poem – is there a pattern here? – won an award at a local arts festival and was read aloud by the only Doctor Who companion who died in situ.   There were the stories published in ‘True Romance’ and the constructive, encouraging rejection from ‘Black Lace’, ‘the first erotic imprint in the UK written for women’.  Apparently, kinky politicians were a bit of a cliché.

Come sixth form, come my crowning achievement –  a reworked pantomime version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  Not only did my head of house agree to be a witch and her deputy, rock the stage as Toto, but the production team featured future stars including a model and ‘Emmerdale’ actor and the bass player of a world famous indie band.  Us Haywards Heath folk punch way above our weight.  Or sometimes just punch.  Entertaining nightlife is a bit sparse there.

But did that make me a proper writer?  No.  My rich earnings of £60 and a poem published in the ‘Evening Argus’, did not turn my head.  (I must have had a rich store of poems, though.  I wonder where they are now.  Along with my childhood friends.)

Many years later, I’m preparing for the debut of ‘Orangeboy’, my first novel for young adults.  I’ve arrived here via short stories, screenwriting, comedy writing and a go at radio scripts.  All languishing in a forgotten folder in a forgotten hard drive with ports for cable types that have long been extinct.

I was lucky enough to gain Caroline Sheldon as my agent.  She saw my potential (but thankfully, no poems) and encouraged me to write for a younger audience.  A couple of paying gigs followed – children’s short stories and educational publishers – then by pure accident I was at an Arvon crime writing course and found myself chatting to a 16-year-old protagonist called Marlon.  Orangeboy.

But still… proper writer?  Ummm.

Then yesterday, something changed.  I went in to Hodder to talk publicity, proofs and literary festival panels.  We chatted school events and people of influence. Coming out into the Blackfriars’ sunshine, I thought – goddamn, this is real!  I then whizzed up the District Line for a lunchtime catch up with Caroline.  A lovely hour or so that also happened to feature some rather splendid butternut squash and apple crumble.

So what was it that made me feel like a proper writer?

Was it the lightheaded shock from getting a seat on the Underground for most of the journey from Blackfriars to Notting Hill?  Definitely a contributing factor.

Was it the lunchtime glass of wine?  As, if!

But perhaps it’s finally sunk in – I can do this!  I can write stuff that people want to read.  I can write stuff that people want to sell.  Without a rhyming couplet in sight.