Day 1 of my blog tour

Here’s me talking about teaching and writing on Day 1 of the ‘I Predict a Riot’ blog tour over on Teen Librarian’s fab site

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I Predict a Riot Hits the Shelves

I love publication day! The sun is shining, copies of I Predict a Riot adorn the shelves of the bookshops of Bath and lots of super lovely reviews are pouring in! Yes, today I have a big smile on my face.

Happy Book Birthday, I Predict a Riot

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Countdown to Publication Day

Five days to I Predict a Riot’s book birthday! Yes, my latest YA novel hits the shelves till this Thursday, 5th June and to mark all the fives, here are five things you might want to know about I Predict a Riot (but never dared to ask!)

1. I Predict a Riot is the hard-hitting, hilarious and heart-breaking tale of three kids from very different backgrounds who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot, in a summer that will change their lives forever.

2. Inspired by the 2011 UK riots, the book is based on the stories of many amazing kids I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years: teenage gang members from South London; street kids in South Africa; as well as the children of politicians and pop stars. Their stories, their voices and their characters inspired what I wrote, but also served to remind me of the responsibility I had in writing about this topic.

3. I Predict a Riot was also inspired by a lesson on Lord of the Flies. I was teaching my Year 10s Golding’s novel, shortly after the UK riots. We ended up having a discussion about how kids ended up rioting and that shaped the novel I went on to write.

4. I set to challenge some of the commonly held assumptions about the kids who got caught up in the riots. I wanted to write an explosive book that would make readers cry … break their hearts … make them angry … make them think!

5. My literary influences are – um – a bit mixed! I Predict a Riot is Meg Rosoff meets ‘Made in Chelsea’, ‘The Knife that Killed Me’ meets ‘The Only way is Essex,’ or ‘Oliver Twist’ meets ‘ meets ‘The Outsiders’ meets ‘Top Boy’ meets ‘Youngers’ – with the odd dash of ‘Pigeon English, Dickens and ‘Son of Rambow’ along the way. Oh, and the Smurfs – they feature too!

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Book Launch Jitters and a Brilliant Idea!

I’ve been selected to appear at One Big Book Launch – and frankly I’m terrified! But I have a crazy plan to get over my nerves – only I need your help!

One Big Book Launch will see 10 authors (including me!) brought together to celebrate the publication of their books at a highly promoted launch party with friends, family, members of the press, publishing professionals and readers. Tickets are still available from the Free Word Centre, here. So please, please come along and support me because I am in a blind, blank, all consuming panic about it.

Don’t get me wrong: I am very excited to have been chosen and the event is going to be brilliant. Ten outstanding and very different authors from across the industry plus loads of press and media types all hobnobbing in a gorgeous glam venue, the Free Word Centre in North London – what’s not to like? To be honest, I’m pretty excited about a night out in the big city (I’m a country bumpkin-mum of two, I don’t get out much) Ooh – and the wine and nibbles … I even get my own assistant for the evening (which I am possibly more excited about than anything else – if I won the lottery, the first thing I’d get would be a PA to sort out my chaotic Hannah Montana existence).

But I must admit that I’ve also been having a few teensy weensy Bridget Jones style nightmares about it. I have to do this five minute speech, you see. Not just me – all the authors do – but I have to go last, which people keep telling me is a good thing because everyone will remember me. But what if all they remember is me going green, stammering incomprehensible jibberish and then throwing up on somebody’s shoes? My friend Martin threw up on Iris Murdoch’s shoes – it was our first night at Uni in Oxford – and whenever I read her books I think of the bemused expression on her face as she stared down at the vomit on her loafers on the college lawn – so it does happen, you see!

And it’s not that I don’t have anything to say about ‘I Predict a Riot’. I have oodles to say. Just you wait – I’ll be wittering and bloggering on about it like mad in the run up to the launch. It’s just that I’d like to hire a body double for the night to say it for me.

Ooh – who would I choose to be my stand in? I like this game! I have in fact been mistaken for Kirsty Allsop in the past – twice, actually. I was stopped in the street and they asked for my autograph and I briefly felt ever so pleased that my literary fame was spreading, only to discover they thought I was Kirsty! And what’s the polite thing to do in such circumstances? I wasn’t sure if I should have pretended to be Ms Allsop and faked her signature – I don’t like to disappoint, you see, and they looked very sad when I said they were sniffing up the wrong location, location, location!

But I digress. To return to the BBL, yes, Kirsty would be perfect – she’d rock a book launch. She’d hand-crotchet book marks and knit some kind of lentil cup-cakes, and make sexy property related innuendos! I wonder if she is free on April 30th?

Mind you, if I’m going to have a body double I might go all out fantasy gal! Maybe Scarlett Johannsen …or Blair Waldorff from Gossip Girl … or Scarlett O’Connor from Nashville (and don’t go telling me the last two aren’t fictional characters, because they are very real to me!)

But I suppose I ought to be English so I think I’ll probably plump for Rachel Weisz. Because she’d have to bring her hubbie Daniel Craig along with her, wouldn’t she? I mean, you can’t just leave 007 home alone, can you? Anything could happen. So, whilst she’s doing a stint on stage, Daniel and I will have a lovely backstage chat. And if he falls ever so slightly in love with me, then … well, it’ll be complicated but I guess I’ll just have to deal with it!

Oh dear, my James Bond fantasy seems to have made me deviate slightly from the point. And it doesn’t get me any closer to writing my pesky speech or figuring out how to get over my Big Book Launch nerves.

But I’ve had this crazy idea. And it’s been a long week (small girl’s birthday party shenanigans, Big Book Launch craziness, end of term madness) and it’s late on a Friday so my brain may be slightly addled and I may regret this later. But here goes…

So, I’m thinking of doing a VLOG! I blame Rhys from Thirst for Fiction for this, because I didn’t even know what a Vlog was until I came across his brilliant site. And I can hear you thinking, ‘But she barely knows how to plug in an electric toothbrush, how is she ever going to manage a Vlog?’ and you would have a point because to be honest I haven’t considered the logistics of this crazy scheme yet. But this is roughly the way I go about my life – and writing my books – I get carried away with an idea, plunge right on in and don’t think about how I’m going to get out again until I’m in too deep to turn back.

So the plan is to write my speech, record it on my Vlog, post my Vlog and then you get to tell me if it’s OK. Or not. Because if it’s rubbish, or boring, or rambling, or incoherent, or pompous, or just way off, you can tell me. And if I do weird things with my face, or my voice – or do anything bonkers – you can tell me that too. And then I can go off and practise make it better so on the night I’m like a speech-making genius legend. Right? This is brilliant, right? What could be better?

So, I’m signing off now. And I’m going to write my speech – and then tomorrow I’ll get my ten year old to film me and do the technical bit. And then I’ll report back for duty!

You see, that wasn’t so bad! What was I worrying about? This is going to be easy – completely simples!


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One Big Book Launch

I’ve been selected to appear at One Big Book Launch at the Free Word Centre on 30th April.

This unique event will see 10 authors brought together to celebrate the publication of their books at a highly promoted launch party with friends, family, members of the press, publishing professionals and readers. Tickets are still available from the Free Word Centre, here.

CompletelyNovel has teamed up with Literally PR and an incredible list of sponsors to produce the One Big Book Launch event on 30th April 2014. They were inundated with quality book submissions showcasing some of the best writing in the UK. I was therefore very excited to be chosen, along with nine other outstanding and very different writers from across the industry.

Two Egmont titles, fiction from No Exit Press, and poetry/plays from the outstanding Sabrina Mahfouz, join five self-published titles, and New Adult fiction from an award-winning Cookery Writer in her 70s.

The mix of genres, target readership, and publishers in this line-up makes for a really eclectic and exciting evening of celebrations! Tickets are still available from the Free Word Centre, here.

So, if you happen to be in London town on that day, do come along and join us! I’ll be the one looking pale with fear as she steps onto the stage to talk about her book. Give me a smile, maybe a wave! I’ll be ever so grateful!

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#My writing process

I’ve been tagged in this ‘My Writing Process’ blog chain and I was feeling rather proud of myself because I’ve finally got the hang of these things work. So, each week a different author blogs about the book they’re working on next. Last week it was the turn of the fabulous Fleur Hitchcock talking about The Story Adventure – a ghost story of 11,000 words, written with the collaboration of lots of children. And now it’s over to me.

Only it turns out I’m a week late! So not feeling quite so smug now, am I!!! Oops – still here goes!

What am I working on at the moment?

I’m in the final stages of writing a book called ‘I Predict a Riot’. Inspired by the 2012 London riots, it’s the explosive and heart-breaking tale of three kids from very different backgrounds who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot, in a summer that will change their lives forever.

Why is it different from other books in the same genre?

Hmm – I’m trying to think what genre it actually is. I guess it’s ‘Pigeon English’ or ‘The Outsiders’ meets ‘Top Boy’ meets Annabel Pitcher or Meg Rosoff. Gritty, contemporary, hard-hitting, heart-breaking teen fiction, perhaps?
But what makes it different? Well, it’s written like a film script for a start. The story is narrated by amateur film-maker Maggie who prefers to watch life through the lens of her camera. When she meets Tokes, the kid with the past, running from trouble, she finds a great subject for her film. And when violence erupts on the streets, led by the ruthless Starfish gang, Maggie has the perfect backdrop for her movie. But as the world explodes Maggie can’t hide behind the lens anymore.
So the whole thing is told in scenes from the film, flashbacks, camera angles – which I suppose reflects my own love of movies, and the fact that I tend to see all my books in quite a cinematic way as I’m writing.

Why do I write what I do?

In all my books I try to address really current contemporary issues. This book is set in fictional neighbourhood of London but it is based on Peckham where I lived for many years, and the characters are based on kids I worked with in youth groups there, and also street kids I met whilst working on projects in South Africa and Namibia. I wanted to reflect the reality of their lives, but also to flip assumptions about class and race on their heads. I wanted to write an explosive book that would make readers cry …break their hearts … make them angry … make them think!
Who are you passing the baton to for next week’s Next Big Thing?

Two of my lovely fellow Bath authors:

Anna Wilson is the author of oodles of fabulous, funny children’s books about her family and other animals (monkeys, puppies, kittens, chickens – you name it!) This year sees her eagerly anticipated teen debut, Summer’s Shadow which comes out on 3rd July. Read her blog here

Alex Campbell is the author of a thrilling debut novel for teens LAND to be published by Hot Key Books in 2014. Read her blog here

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Cover proofs and blurb for ‘I Predict a Riot’

Very excited to get cover proofs through for my new book this week! ‘I Predict a Riot’ is scheduled for publication in Spring 2013, and it might just be the book I am most proud of. Here’s the blurb!!!

It’s a year since everything happened but I still have bad dreams. Dreams of me and Tokes and Little Pea, running through burning streets on the night the city was in flames…

Welcome to Coronation Road, a kaleidoscope of clashing cultures and parallel lives. There’s Maggie and her politician mum in their big house. There’s Tokes and his mum in a tiny bedsit, running from trouble. And there’s the ruthless Starfish gang, breeding fear throughout the neighbourhood.

Amateur film maker Maggie prefers to watch life through the lens of her camera. In Tokes she finds a great subject for her new film. And when violence erupts, led by the Starfish gang, Maggie finds the perfect backdrop. But as the world explodes around her, Maggie can’t hide behind the lens anymore.

Explosive drama, perfect for Fans of Meg Rosoff and Annabel Pitcher.

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More new cover images for ‘I Predict a Riot’

Oh, I do so love the cover for my forthcoming book ‘I Predict a Riot’. I think it may just be my favourite cover yet – and I love them all! Anyway, here’s the double page spread for you to enjoy. No tag line yet and it’s quite low res so the writing looks a bit funny but I still think it’s a thing of beauty!

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The Next Big thing

I’ve been tagged in this ‘Next Big Thing’ blog chain thingie. The whole thing bamboozled me at first but I think I’ve got the hang of it now! Basically, each week a different author blogs about the book they’re working on next. Last week it was the turn of the fabulous Joanna Nadin ( talking about the long-awaited final instalment of her Rachel Riley Series (can’t wait, Jo!). And now it’s over to me.

Now, if I’d been asked to do this a month ago, I’d have dissolved into a jibbering wreck. I was in despair over my next book and ready to throw the whole thing down the toilet (I think it was Iris Murdoch who said that, ‘Every book is the ruin of a perfect idea’ – so true!). But I’ve just finished a second draft and I’m feeling all buzzy and excited and just a little bit in love with it now. So, I’ve mastered hyperlinks and memes and I’m all raring to go. So here it is – this is my ‘Next Big Thing’.

What’s the title of your next book?

It hasn’t got one yet! I have to submit the manuscript to my publishers in January so it’s just got a working title at the moment. Well, it’s sort of got two working titles and I can’t decide which one I prefer. Ooh – perhaps you can help. What do you think: ‘Looking out for Little Pea’ or ‘Little Pea, the New Kid and Me’ – answers on a postcard please. Oh, or ‘Pea-shooters’ – sometimes I quite like that one? Clearly I’m rubbish at the whole book title bit!

Where did the idea come from?

It was inspired by the 2012 London riots. I wanted to write about three kids from very different background all of whom become involved in the riots for different reasons – and about the fall-out when they do.

What genre does your book fall under?

I suppose it’s a mixture between comedy and gritty social realism – which sounds odd but there you have it. Think Frank Cottrell Boyce meets Pigeon English, I suppose!

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?

Definitely Malcolm Kamulete who starred in ‘Top Boy’ for Tokes because I always had him in mind when I was writing the character. And maybe a young Dakota Blue Richards for Zenna – if we can find a time machine and make her 12/13 again!

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A hilarious and heartbreaking tale of three kids who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot, in a summer that will change their lives forever.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Egmont and is currently scheduled for release in January 2014

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About 7 months

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
‘Framed’ or ‘The Unforgotten Coat’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce; a younger version of ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman; or ‘The Outsiders’ by S E Hinton. Oh, there’s a bit of ‘Cat and Mouse’ by Cathy Cassidy too!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by the London riots, an amazing TV series called ‘Top Boy’, the kids I worked with on inner city project in London, and on a programme for street children in South Africa– oh, and ‘Made in Chelsea’!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I commit literary murder for the first time! Yes, somebody dies – it’s the first time I’ve ever killed a character on page and I found it really, really hard. I cried buckets and buckets when I wrote that chapter and I sob like a baby every time I read it!

Who are you passing the baton to for next week’s Next Big Thing?

To my lovely schoolyard author pals:

Fleur Hitchcock

Maudie Smith

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Why I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’

I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’! No, seriously, it should have been me! Suzanne Collins – Schmollins. I should be topping those best seller lists and tripping down the red carpet to film premieres (although I haven’t a thing to wear!) Cos it was my idea, you know! Well, sort of… I mean, I totally… practically… well almost thought of exactly the similar-ish plot.
OK, here’s how it was: I’d been reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ whilst watching ‘The X Factor’ (yes, at the same time – I know, weird) and I thought, ‘Oooh! I should write a novel about a reality TV show where the contestants have to kill each other.’ I got a little way into plotting it too (I have the notes in an old ideas book which I unearthed recently in order to prove myself that I had basically written a best seller – sort of) but then I remembered that I don’t much like blood. Or gory bits in books. Or killing off my characters really. And I’m rubbish at writing dystopian fiction. And that’s as far as it got.
Only it didn’t – not really. Cos The Reality TV bit stayed with me, nagged at me – in that way certain plot lines tend to do. I think it was Frank Cottrell Boyce who said that some plots hunt you down, relentlessly – like a predator, on your tail night and day until you get them onto paper. And that’s what this one did for me. And as it went along it got muddled up with a load of other stuff: oil refinery strikes and kids with Olympic dreams and ‘Shameless’ and ‘Billy Elliot’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ via Richard Armitage (him from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!) and ‘Glee’ and my sister making me pierce her ear with a fish-finger and my friends and I starting a girl band when we were seven (we made dresses out of bin-liners) … and somehow my ‘Hunger Games’ turned into a totally different novel which eventually became ‘Pop!’ It’s still about Reality TV – after all it was the perfect cover for my BGT/ X Factor obsession – and it’s even got a love triangle but more it’s more ‘Millions’ than ‘Mockinjay’. Less murder and more mayhem and madness , basically!
Cos I might be a bit too much of an optimist to write dystopia but I do love a bit of Talent TV. OK I admit it – I’m a Talent TV addict. In fact some of the key moments of my life I associate with Talent TV. Novels got me through childbirth (yes, seriously: ‘Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix’ for child no 1 – it was a long labour – and ‘Wives and Daughters’ for child no. 2 – I still haven’t finished it!) but ‘Pop Idol 2003’ (and ‘Pop Idol Extra’) got me through the new baby sleepless nights phase and ‘BGT’ was there for me the day my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Stavros Flatley – better than valium. God bless those little chubby river-dancers!
And I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare that the editors of shows like ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today. Yes, storytellers. Think of those perfect narrative arcs they script for the characters (sorry contestants); the heart-rending back stories; the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides; the butterfly from the cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliffhangers; the tearjerking goodbyes and the edge-of-you-seat grand finales. It’s fictional gold dust!
Yes, there’s an element to which the editors have to relinquish control of their scripts to the voting public, but if you ask me that’s just a bit like one of those ‘fighting fantasy’ adventures – you know the ones you read when you were a kid (if you were a kid in the eighties, like me!) where you get a choice what to do at the end of each chapter. But the thing was that no matter what you chose they’d scripted a possible outcome for you – just like they’ve got every possible ending lined up in the Talent TV the edit suite, ready to roll out when the phone lines close. Honestly, those Talent TV bods know how to write a good story – and that’s what gets me hooked every time!
But I wanted to invent a kid who could see the narrative clichés of Talent TV and set out to exploit them. So my main character, Elfie Baguley, reckons she knows the ‘Rules of Talent TV’ inside out. Her useless –good-for-nothing mum is celeb obsessed – and she watches so much Fame TV Elfie’s sussed out the ‘winning formula’. So when she and her mates decide the only way to sort out their rubbish lives is to enter ‘Pop to the Top!’ (my fictionalised – and barely disguised – version of The X Factor’!) Elfie knows exactly how to ensure they get all the way to final – and if that means making up the odd whopping great lie and landing her best mates in a whole load of trouble along the way then what can you do?
But I guess ‘Pop!’ is a bit like my previous book ‘We Can be Heroes’ in that it’s silly and madcap and bonkers but underneath all that it’s actually dealing with some pretty serious issues. The whole reason my main characters enter ‘Pop to the Top’ is because it’s the only solution they can think of to the rubbish stuff that’s going on in their lives – or maybe a way to help them forget all that. A strike is dividing the community; Elfie’s mum has run out on the family (again); her dad is on the verge of bankruptcy; and if that happens he’ll lose custody of Elfie and her baby brother too. Winning the prize money is Elfie’s last chance to save her family.
But she needs Agnes if she’s going to do it. If Elfie is the brains behind the operation, Agnes is the talent. The only problem is that the girls’ families are on opposite sides of the strikers/scab divide. Agnes’s family are under attack and ostracized by the whole community so going along with Elfie’s crazy plan is the only way any one will actually talk to her (not in public mind you – like Elfie said, this is strictly business and totally top secret!)
Then there’s Jimmy. Sweet, long-suffering Jimmy who’s been in love with Agnes since they were eight years old. Jimmy’s got his own problems: his dad wants him to be an Olympic swimmer. He reckons everyone should have a dream and this is Jimmy’s apparently. Only sometimes it feels like he’s only doing it to keep his dad happy – and now his dad talking about crossing the picket line to pay for Jimmy’s training and Jimmy has to stop him.
Jimmy gets dragged into Elfie’s ‘Pop to the Top!’ plan because – well, basically because he does whatever Elfie tells him to do – it’s just easier that way. Even if it does mean posing as the teen father of her lovechild and pretending to be in love triangle with Agnes and Elfie – which he sort of is anyway ( not that he is EVER going to admit that to anyone – especially not Elfie!)
Of course I had to watch my step writing about Talent TV. My original judging panel line up for ‘Pop to the Top!’ would have got me sued by Mr Cowell and Co! And the minute I changed my lead judge to a North West Pop Legend who’d headed up a Uber-famous boy band in the 90s what goes and happens? Gary Barlow only gets the top spot at the X Factor. So, can I do that disclaimer bit you always see on films: ‘Any similarity to real event and people is purely coincidence etc etc!’ Cos I love Gary, me! Despite how it might seem when you read the book!
It was a character from George Orwell’s novel who spawned ‘Big Brother’ – the first ever Reality TV show. And now Reality TV is feeding right back into fiction and shaping the way contemporary authors are writing. From ‘The Hunger Games’ and the ‘The Running Man’ to novels like ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ ,‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’, ‘L. A. Candy’ ‘Strictly Shimmer’ – and loads more – see my list below – Reality TV is such an integral part of our culture that it’s hardly surprising that it should be a topic of interest to contemporary novelists.
And I might be a Talent TV addict, but that doesn’t mean I don’ t think it needs to be mocked a little – OK, more than a little! Or maybe the’ ‘Rules of Talent TV’ that head up every chapter of ‘Pop!’ really are a fool-proof recipe for Talent TV success – perhaps someone should follow them all and see! Only it won’t be me cos I really, really, really can’t sing! And I don’t have any talent really – oh, except writing, obviously (I think I’m meant to say that aren’t I or no one will read my books!)
Anyway, I guess I’m OK with not writing ‘The Hunger Games’. I mean, thank goodness Suzanne Collins did cos they totally rock (I read all three in four days and barely ate, slept or spoke to my children whilst doing so). But I’m so indecisive I’d never have decided between Pet and Gale and I’m so squeamish no one would actually have ever died in the arena. And most importantly, what would I have worn to all those film premieres? I just don’t have the shoes! So perhaps I’m glad I wrote ‘Pop!’ instead. Which is not to say I would mind if any lovely film buff came knocking on my door … in fact, I think it’d make a cracking film you know … call me anytime, Mr Spielburg!

Reality TV Novels

‘Pop!’ by Catherine Bruton

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’ by Joanna Nadin

The Bex Factor by Simon

Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare by Dee

The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James by Gillian

The Fame Game by Lauren

Pup Idol by Anna Wilson

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Watch Me by Lauren Barnholdt

Strictly Shimmer by Amanda Roberts

L. A Candy by Lauren Conrad

Fifteen Minute Bob by Cathy Forde

Dead Famous by Ben Elton

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