Piano Jams and A Lot of Trains

I’ve been all over the country since I last blogged – doing good things with brilliant people. Oxford, London, Leeds, Sheffield, Barnsley, Bradford; teaching, meetings, a festival with First Story; workshops, a residency. And I’ve loved all of it.

There hasn’t been a highlight as such, because they’ve all been brilliant in their own way, but I think the Chatterbooks Celebration might just pip all the others because it was just so, so much fun. Members of Sheffield Libraries’ Chatterbooks groups (reading groups for young people – I think there are six in Sheffield alone) were all sent chocolate bars. Some of the those chocolate bars contained Golden Tickets. Finding a Golden Ticket in your bar meant an invite to an event at the Children’s Central Library where we celebrated books, writing, and came up with our own, very brilliant, stories and poems. Everything worked brilliantly and, like I said, we had so, so much fun.

(added: you can read what Sheffield Libraries had to say about it here.)





A selection of Chatterbookers


Me, backstage

Another brilliant, brilliant event was the First Story young writers’ festival at Oxford University. Hundreds of writers from schools from all over the country gathered there to immerse themselves in stories and poems,  listen to panels, each other, and, most importantly, to WRITE under the guidance of a whole bunch of brilliant authors. I saw, and heard, some absolutely wonderful pieces of writing, met some amazing people, and even got to hear someone play a piano like it was meant to be played. It was ace.


It was a very early start.


…and there really are lots of bikes

img_0798…but it was all SO worth it

img_0809…and I got to sit here.

And, amongst it all, I ran a three day workshop where there is an actual CASTLE in a library.



In discussion

And, after it all (or amongst it all) there was time for a (secretly filmed) two-man piano jam (that’s me on the left).

Ten Years!

Ten years ago I was crapping myself. I was twenty-five years old and, the next day, my first book was being published. I think that time sums up writing, or a writer’s life, pretty well. Hugely excited and proud, but terrified too. I was good enough that someone wanted to publish me but I was desperately worried that I wasn’t good enough to be liked. Thrilled my name was on a book but so, so worried that no one would buy it and that it wouldn’t be read. You know, people talk about putting your money where your mouth is and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that more than then.

And I’m not even sure that ever goes away – ten years, loads of stories and four more books later, I still have that fear – and I’m not even sure that that’s a bad thing. For me, it makes me work harder. I think I tell myself that if I can make it even a little harder for people to find out I’m a phonie then it’s worth it. I don’t think I don’t know any decent writer who doesn’t doubt their ability or worry that, one day, they’ll be proven to have been winging it.

I’ve heard people say that releasing a book’s like opening your house up to the public and asking them to tell you what they think of how you’ve decorated. Or like walking naked down a high street, asking for people’s opinion of what they see. And it is.

But it’s better than that too. When people like what you’ve written, when you’ve moved them in some way, it’s probably the best feeling in the world. Knowing your words have mattered to someone is a gift.

And I’ve been lucky because people have liked, in some cases, loved what I’ve written and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Even when the writing’s hard. Even when it’s exhausting and when the rejections hurt and even when I’ve had to learn the meaning of the word patience (folks, things in publishing move slowly).

I was going to do some sort of celebratory giveaway thing but I’m that busy over the next couple of weeks that I’d struggle to fit it in. I might put that off until Christmas. For now I want to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s read me, bought me, published me; taken the time to review or to say nice things to me or about my books and stories; met me for cups of tea when I’ve been in unfamiliar cities; booked me for events, invited me into schools, colleges, libraries… I’ll stop there. Basically, thank you to everyone who’s made what can feel like the hardest job in the world feel like the best. Because it probably is.


And here’s me running my first ever workshop.


And about a year after the book came out, opening a library and clearly too tired to shave.


Happy birthday, book.


Here’s hopefully, to many more.


Young Writers’ Groups


I’ve been lucky enough to have been running (and helping running) writing groups in South Yorkshire for a while now. And, after a break over the summer, they’re back with Hive – an amazing new programme for young writers in south Yorkshire (there’ll be writers days, competitions, a festival, and all sorts of goodness in the future – go here for all the info).

There’ll be groups for 14 – 19 year olds in Doncaster, Barnsley, Sheffield, and Rotherham – so if you’re in the area and fancy coming along, or know someone who might fancy it, do spread the word (and go here for more info). And, of course, they’re free.

Here are the start dates:
Sheffield – 28th Sept – 5.30 to 7.30pm
Rotherham 3rd Oct – 5 to 7pm
Barnsley – (date TBC) – Likely the week of 10th October
Doncaster – 5th Oct 5 to 7pm

On a personal note, the groups are brilliant, friendly, fun – and we do really good stuff. And it doesn’t matter how experienced you are – everyone is welcome. If you like it as a hobby (or would like to try it out); if you’re thinking of a career in writing, come along. I’d love to see you there.

First Story: Changing Lives

I was in London last week with First Story (who do really really amazing things by putting writers in schools). I’ve worked with them for a little while now as a writer in residence in Leeds and, hand on heart, they’re brilliant. I’ve said this time and again: it is wonderful to see an organisation who care so much about young writers and who put what they need before all else. And they’re a wonderful bunch of people. All the info’s here – do have a look.

And London was good. I always like London. And it was a great opportunity to meet friends I’d known for ages and not yet met and, after, I rushed off to hang out with Robert Shearman who’s probably the nicest man in writing and someone whose work I have loved for many, many years.

Much writing and polishing has also been happening in amongst the filling in of calendars and prepping for a whole load of exciting stuff that’s on its way – more of that soon…

But, back to First Story. They’ve gone and done a video. This is what they do:

Golden Tickets

Chatterbooks is a very good thing – it’s the UK’s largest network of children’s reading groups. That this is a thing makes me very happy.

What also makes me happy being a part of it, which I will on October 5th. There are a load of Chatterbooks groups supported by Sheffield libraries and, over the past couple of weeks, someone has been sending out chocolate bars to the members of them. And some of those chocolate bars have contained golden tickets (and not just because I may have been called the Willy Wonka of short stories once upon a time). And those golden tickets are invites to attend a one-off celebration event in the city and get to work with me, writing stories.



There are (or certainly were – I’ve got a feeling it’s already pretty much sold out *added: there are 2 places left) a couple of non-ticket spaces available so if you fancy it give the Central Children’s Lending Library a shout. I’m really looking forward to it. It will be fun.


And look! Another amazing Book Monster display!


Darnall and Things

So, where were we? Oh yes, last time I had time to blog I’d just got back from a few days away which now, as lovely and relaxing and needed as it was, feels like a long time ago. I have been busy with loads of writing (yes, actual writing) and teaching and things.

Tomorrow I’m off to the library at Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre to present young writers with their copies of the books their stories are in from them they spent three afternoons with me a little while ago and I genuinely can’t wait for them to see them – they’re wonderful and the artwork they created is probably the best I’ve seen. I’m sure there’ll be photos to follow. There’s supposed to be quite an audience there too which is exciting.

Speaking of photos though…


Before Crystal Peaks I spent six Friday afternoons at Darnall Library, working with eight really amazing young writers. We had fun. We came up with some really brilliant ideas and we worked really, really hard on turning them into exciting stories – and we succeeded too (I say ‘we’ I mean ‘the brilliant writers’ of course). Everyone produced something brilliant – even when they didn’t think they could at first. And it was a real pleasure to see so many people in the audience for their presentation event mostly because the stories were so good and because they were read brilliantly. Maybe, too, because there were ice lollies as well…

The whole six weeks were a genuine pleasure and I’d like to say a massive thank you to the librarians and to The Library Service (who are always amazing) and to the writers and their families who were amazing too. The support was wonderful.

And here are some of the highlights…





PENTACON Digital Camera
PENTACON Digital Camera
PENTACON Digital Camera
PENTACON Digital Camera


I Went Away

I’ve been at my desk all day today, preparing for the workshops I’m running at Crystal Peaks next week, and tidying the stories I wrote while I was away. Yes. I went away. First proper break in about nine years and it was as worth it as it was needed. I had fun. I walked, visited interesting places, spoke to nice people, and wrote. I even visited a Buddhist temple and smelled the most beautiful smelling roses I’ve ever come across. Here are some pics.



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Things I’ve Enjoyed

Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of weeks…


First off, The Sculptor. An epic and wonderful graphic novel on art, relationships, and what you’d give up for the time to make something brilliant. I loved it.

Juhmpha Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies – an absolute masterclass of short story writing. It won the Pulitzer. As a short story collection. Say no more.

I re-read Café Niagara by István Örkény, which is lovely but I can’t seem to find it anywhere to read or buy online (I have it in a Nothing’s Lost – a collection of Hungarian short stories).

Last night I watched Midnight Special which was great – a kind of a modern B movie/ X-Files mashup that, simply, worked.

And, a couple of nights before, I watched the Deadpool movie and was more surprised than I thought I’d be when it turned out to be really good fun.

We Have a Winner

Thank you to all who entered the Sandlands giveaway.


Sandlands cover high res

The names have been printed and put in a pot. They have been shuffled and I have closed my eyes, pushed my hand into the pot and I have pulled out and unraveled a scrunched up piece of paper.

And the name on the paper


and still is…



Huge congratulations to her- I am sure she’ll love it.

(And, even better, I can give it to her in person which means I even save the postage.)

Crystal Peaks Junior Writers

I’ve barely finished one set of workshops for the brilliant library service in Sheffield (their books are being prepared for printing as we speak) and now I get to announce another.

Really, really thrilled to say I’ll be at Crystal Peaks Library for three days to work with young writers (ages 8-11). The sessions will run at 2pm on Monday 22nd August, then 10:30 on Tuesday 23rd, and  10:30 Thursday 25th.

We’ll learn how to write well – generating good ideas and turning them into brilliant stories, with illustrations and, at the end, those stories will be turned into their own book which’ll be presented at an event where mums and dads and friends will hear the stories being read. It’s FREE but places are strictly limited so I’d suggest booking very soon (the last couple have sold out very quickly). Do spread the word and I hope to see you there!

To book contact Crystal Peaks Library – Email: crystalpeaks.library@sheffield.gov.uk or by phone: 0114 2930612


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