Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Lists and Prizes

Gather round, gather round.

I had the enormous pleasure of attending the award ceremony of the Dudley Teen Book Award a few days ago. I met Ally Kennen, shortlisted for Midnight Pirates, and Marie-Lousie Jensen, who’s novel Smuggler’s Kiss had made the shortlist as well. And I got to meet a nice big crowd of fantastic young people who very graciously and politely listened to my blather and queued up to get their copies of Poison Boy signed. It was a great occasion. Mostly because I won! The Poison Boy pipped a whole bunch of brilliant books to the post, and I’m delighted.

Thanks to everyone who organised the event and all the kids who took part for making the day so special.

Coming up are a few more awards for which I’ve been lucky enough to be shortlisted:

The Leeds Book Award has an amazing shortlist in three categories and a killer website – where kids can vote for and review the shortlisted books. I'm getting trounced, but what the hell. The winner will be announced on May 22nd.

On June 18th, The Calderdale Children's Book of the Year will be announced, and the longlist is waaay good. PB's an outside bet at the best, I reckon.

The Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Award is open for voting now – you can vote up until the end of June. Go!

And I’ve also been lucky enough to be shortlisted for the North East Book Award. Details to follow on this one.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Hey, Fletch – surely Poison Boy on the Branford Boase Longlist was a mistake, right?’ Well, it’s certainly a wonderful turn-up for the books. I get booted off when the longlist becomes shortlist, so expect my name to be missing when the announcement is made in early April.

Right. Back to work…

Monday, 10 March 2014

Reading in the Sun

When I was ten I went on holiday abroad for the first time. And so I became acquainted with one of the greatest of life’s pleasures, namely: reading in the sun next to a swimming pool. Ever since those Elysian days, I’ve been trying, one way or another, to recapture the sheer self-indulgent carefree joy of lying on my back on a towel, holding up a novel until my arms ache, taking a dip to cool down, and starting all over again.
So when it was recently suggested to me that I could save space by taking an e-reader on holiday this year instead, I shuddered. No chance, pal. I want a suitcase full of battered books. That’s the whole point. I’m no luddite guys, honest, but bear with me while I take three key images of childhood holidays camping in France and expand on them a little by way of explanation.

Image one: melting paperbacks with black covers

You’ve never done this? C’mon. It’s formative. You’re reading a novel with a black cover – usually Stephen King or James Herbert I seem to recall, though my Fellowship of the Ring was also black – and you splay it open face down on the dashboard of your parents’ car. Park the car – a green Capri – in full sun for three hours or so; go and play table tennis with your brothers or something; then return to find the binding-glue has completely evaporated in the baking heat and your book has become a cracked and melting spine inside which are clotted sections of pages still stuck together like little mini novels, usually no longer than eighty or a hundred pages each. You can shuffle them about and read the book in the wrong order. It’s ace.

Image two: sand between the pages

…which empties out into your sleeping bag as you dip back into a book you’d been reading on the beach earlier that day. The scene is this: it’s late, but still light. You’ve got a torch with a knackered battery, and you’re reading. It doesn’t matter what time it is. It doesn’t matter what’s happening tomorrow. You’ve no mobile phone or internet connection – you won’t have for another twenty years – and you’ve haven’t seen a telly for close to two weeks. You’re utterly calm, centred and carefree; so much so you happily recline in the sand rather than brush it all out. That night, you sleep like a log.

Image three:  swollen and bloated books

Choose an appropriately epic summer read – the key here is to make sure it’s already a whopper. Then leave it near a source of water and engage in the kind of vigorous play which usually frightens other kids away from the pool. Return to your reading spot to find your novel, sopping wet, has warped and inflated into something close to twice its size. Dry it in the sun and the pages get stuck with a pleasing ripple, never sitting flat again. The spine arches into an inverted U shape. When you get it back home, it won’t fit the slot you withdrew it from; it looks like you’re trying to put Lennie Small in your bookcase.

Seems strange writing this now, it being early March and all, but praise be the sun’s been out for two days now. I know there’s rain on the way. There always is. But here’s hoping we get a hot one this summer - a long, drowsy and endless sequence of books by the pool.

Oh, and e-readers? Get lost.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Myazaki and Me

This blog post was first published at the tremendous YA Yeah Yeah blog - the link to which is here. It is reproduced in full. Enjoy...

My fixation with age started in my twenties. I’m not talking about wrinkles, bags or greying hair here; my obsession was different. I was gloomily fascinated with how old writers were when they got their first novel published. I’d heard somewhere that Donna Tartt had begun The Secret History when she was nineteen, and that great swathes of it were the unedited first draft of a teenage writer. Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she too was nineteen. Brett Easton Ellis, I hear you ask? 21.

There were others, too, and the knowledge of it was eating me from the inside out. Every time a debut novel came out I’d find myself in a bookshop somewhere checking the author’s bio, and working out their age. Twenty four, twenty eight, thirty one – these kind of ages seem to figure highly as I stood in bookshops over the next decade anxiously doing the maths.

Time, I knew, was slipping away.

My problem? I couldn’t find any long-term traction for an idea. I’d spend a year on a doomed piece of misplotted detective fiction, and then my eye would be caught by something new; I’d declare myself on a mission to write kooky travel fiction, strap a thrift-store tent to the back of a bicycle, and be abandoning the whole sorry endeavour before sundown. Everything I read became the missing link. For three years in my early thirties I was mainlining A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and trying to turn myself in to Dave Eggers having decided I was never going to be Iris Murdoch. Then it was Julian Barnes; Martin Amis, Ian MacEwan. I couldn’t ‘be true to myself’ because I had no idea who I was. I couldn’t ‘write what I know’ because all I knew was trying to be other writers.

Then everything changed. I read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (Reeve? 35, in case you were wondering.) Damn, I thought. I used to love stories like this. Then, after a moment; I still love stories like this. Really love them. The YA bug bit me and I was away – I was off – I had a direction and a drive and a belief in what I was doing.

I was 42 when The Poison Boy came out; very much the back-end of the distribution curve, I reckon. But since that day I’ve gathered around me a gang of noteworthy guys and gals who also came (fashionably!) late to the party. Ian Fleming was 42 as well; Raymond Chandler 51. George Eliot belongs in this crew, as does (ahem) the Marquis de Sade.

For Christmas this year, I got a tremendous little gift - a book of critical essays that told the story of the Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli and its creative director the magnificent Mr Hayao Miyazaki. I’ve long been a borderline obsessive fan of his. Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo; these are all, I reckon, timeless works of magic. And wouldn’t you know it? When his first feature-length movie was released, he was 38. His second came out when he was 44.

So whatever your age or circumstances – I reckon there’s pretty much no such thing as too late in this game. Here’s to making up for lost time.