I’m now living in Amsterdam in the Netherlands where my wife has a new job.

I woke this morning up to find an enormous crane outside my office window.  I don’t think the pictures do it justice, although I’ve montaged them together to show the size of the thing. It looks like they are building some sort of roof terrace on top of the house opposite.

The best thing about my new office is that it has a hoist. The building was once a warehouse, so this was used to haul up goods. It looks like some sort of medieval torture device!



The Great Space Race website goes live

The Great Space Race website is up and running. It’s got as much stuff as I could possibly cram onto it. There’s a PDF of the first two chapters, music, wallpapers, movies, links… you can see it if you click HERE

This is the very last creative task associated with Space Race, which has turned out to be quite an intriguing journey all-in-all. I’ve certainly had to learn some new skills – I’ve recorded an album, designed and constructed a robot monkey, built a nine foot tall rocket (with help from my Dad), shot a music video and edited it, and all in the name of literature!

The website has been a great way to pull all of these different strands together, but more than anything, I hope the online content helps to make the book as fascinating as possible… and fun, too. My fave is Barry the robot’s music video.

Here’s a very short film of me recording the music, just to give a taste of what I’ve been doing!

Countdown to the launch of The Great Space Race

The launch of my next novel, The Great Space Race is under a week away now, and very nearly everything is in place.

The new website should go live in a couple of days, which is very exciting! I’ve tried to make it look as much like the book as possible. I’ll post a message here once it goes live.

Steve Friendship and his editor Jade of Large Scale Films have been busy editing together the 5 short web documentaries (AKA the webisodes) about me, my work and some background on The Great Space Race. These are up and running and are definitely worth a look CLICK HERE. I recommend webisode 5 for any fans of the illustration in the Guild Trilogy

I’ve also written and recorded a music album to go with the The Great Space Race, and have therefore had to learn the dark arts of sound engineering through a process of hit and miss. It’s been lots of  fun and I hope it will help build the background ‘world’ of Ace, the narrator in the book (he plays in a band). I’ve set up a MySpace page for the band, and uploaded 4 tracks. You can hear them HERE

Today, I have the last piece of work to finish off – a music video to go with one of the music tracks. This features the robot monkey called Barry, the hero of the story. I’ve recorded it, so now I just need to edit it. Here’s a pic from the video shoot I recorded last week:

Rocket build film

What a strange couple of months – there’s not been much writing going on, alas, but plenty of guitar playing. I’ve also been doing lots and lots of freelance illustration, mostly for newspapers, but that stuff doesn’t make for especially good blog reading. It pays the bills though.

My new writing shed is now up and running. Here’s a pic, so you can see where I work:

I’ve lined the insides to keep the thing warm, put a ceiling in, dug up the garden so I could run a power cable out to it… you get the idea. Despite all this, it’s been such a cold May here in the UK that my computer screen refuses to work first thing in the morning until I’ve warmed the place up. Took me a bit to figure that out.

The good news is I have almost completed the music for The Great Space Race. This has been such a wheeze to do, though it saps so much time! I need to write just one more tune, record some live drum tracks, then do the final mix.

I also need to put some whacking great guitar feedback overdubs on. Yeah! This means finding a remote location and turning up the volume to 10 (or is that 11?) so I can record the results. I can’t do this where I live because there would be complaints! I therefore need to speak nicely to my brother who lives in the countryside. I’d like to get it all finished by the middle of June ready for release. More news as and when… the album does however Rock with a capital R.

In the meantime, I’ve just finished editing the rocket build film.

I really hope you like it: CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Packing up and moving out of London

Just a quick blog-ette update. I’m moving houses in a week, so have been a ‘Bad Blogger’ of late. Boo. Hiss. Basically, lots of packing, interspersed with lots of work on pitching book 5, plus a surprising amount of freelance graphic design work. Ahhhaahah!! Not enough hours in the day.

March has been incredibly complicated – I really want to write it up properly, so a full blog post soon.


Skiing in Austria

I’ve been away in Mutters, Austria learning to ski! Yikes. My first time, and for the first few days it was pretty terrifying. Great fun, though, and a really beautiful location.

So two weeks away from my desk eating far too much food and trying not to injure myself, but now I’m back, and working hard on book 5.

I’ve lots of new ideas on the first 10,000 words and the general structure of the book, and have been editing and refining ahead of sending it to my literary agent next week for her thoughts.

So I’ve added lots, deleted lots, and generally done what one has to done to a first draft – been a little bit brutal and cruel. The first thing I did on my return was to cut out the waffle as much as I could. I’ve been sharpening the chapter endings, and strengthening the fear factor as well. It’s a big plot, though. Should be good.

The other news (via Walker Books marketing department) is that it looks like I shall be attending quite a few UK literary festivals over the coming summer to promote The Great Space Race. More information to follow when I get some dates.

I’ve also been writing tracks for the Space Race album – more loud guitars and harmonica. This doesn’t feel like work, but it is really, and it certainly breaks up the day from all that first draft editing.

Book 5 and 10 tips on writing novels

I’m back to writing. Back to book 5. Back to being a novelist rather than an illustrator! Just me, my imagination and a word processor. Excellent!

I did quite a considerable amount of work on the plot for book 5 last summer, but the extraordinary amount of illustration required for The Great Space Race swamped me, so it all feels fresh, exciting and new.

So there’s a lot of ground work already done. I also have some notes from my literary agent, Clare, who has an exceptionally good eye for knowing what’s working and what’s not. I tend to listen hard to what Clare has to say, because she will be trying to sell the book shortly. Clare, I should point out, was the first person to believe in the Guild Trilogy and thought it was worth trying to get published. That’s why I care very much what she thinks.

One of Clare’s suggestions was to move the story into the first person (as in –  ‘I did this, I did that’), an idea I’d toyed with because I’d had such fun writing the Space Race that way. The Guild Trilogy is, of course, written in the third person (as in – ‘he did this, she did that’).

Writing in the first person gives the whole script a very different and somehow more immediate feel. Lots of authors use the third person because it allows you to see different points of view from the various different characters. With the first person, you get a single point of view, so are very much on one person’s journey.

With the renewed energies of 2010, I have launched forth. I have a plot structure through to the end (very important), and have written the first 10,000 words. This week I’ve been working through it, cutting, sharpening, editing to get those first 30 pages working as hard as possible. And those first 30 pages are some of the most important.

So what am I actually doing when I’m writing a first draft? I get asked this quite a bit, so perhaps it is time for… a list!

Here are some of my own tips on writing adventure novels for children. These are hard won, but I hasten to add there are many, many different ways to write a book, so this can no way be described as definitive.

1 ) The target is 50,000 words, because that is the length publishers like for children’s fiction. It is unrealistic to think 100,000 words will be rolling off the presses, unless I change my name to J. K. Mowlling.

2 ) Every paragraph must have a purpose. Anything unnecessary to the plot will probably be cut by editors later, so there’s not much point spending time writing it in the first place.

3 ) Something fundamental should change for the characters in each chapter to turn the story (a discovery, an event, a piece of information revealed). The more twists and turns the better. This drives the story forward. If nothing much has happened in a chapter, what’s the point of it being there. Is it stuffed full of exposition (see tip 9 below)?

4 ) For each chapter I ask: ‘What’s at stake here?’

5 ) For each chapter I also ask: ‘Where’s the jeopardy?’

6 ) I try to keep my chapters short. 1,500 words is more than enough. 5,000 words is far, far too long.

7 ) Nothing is sacred. Just because I especially like a chapter or an idea, I don’t get hung up on it. If it starts to get in the way of the developing story, I cut it out (but save it somewhere on my computer just in case!) then let the new material breathe and grow.

8 ) I know that not all my ideas will make it to the final draft. With this mindset from the start, it makes editing and cutting much less painful.

9 ) Exposition (in other words backstory, history lessons explaining plot, aimless pages about the character’s upbringing etc…) tend to stop the story dead. Exposition is the enemy. It needs to be fed in very, very slowly. In the trilogy, I tended to relegate exposition to sidebars, footnotes, appendices, foldouts, and illustration where possible. Anywhere but in the story… unless essential.

10) It’s a bit of cliqué now, but I like write the sort of book I would have enjoyed when I was young.