2019: My Annus Surrealis

Did 2019 seriously only last a year? I swear it felt a lot longer.

Sorry. It’s been a while since I updated my blog. Busy as always, but here I am, and what better time to drop in than the end of a decade?

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Scavengers’ book launch at Five Leaves Books, with my extraordinary editor, Stephanie King

So. How on earth do I describe my first year as a (traditionally) published author? In a word, I’d say EMOTIONAL. It went a bit like this:

  • Whoop whoop, I’m getting published!
  • Oops, I just crashed the car.
  • But at least I’ve got a book coming out. And wow, this school supplier’s made Scavengers Book of the Week. And it’s been selected for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge! It’s too good to be true.
  • Hang on. Maybe it is too good to be true! What if it’s some sort of bizarre admin error? Or a momentary lapse in reason?
  • Oh my god, this isn’t just a fever dream; Scavengers is out! And the book launch wasn’t as horrific as I thought it’d be. Anything but, actually.
  • Argh! My wife’s just ambushed me with a surprise Scavengers party. I can’t tell whether I’m delighted or mortified. But there’s definitely something in my eye…
  • What? I have to visit schools and talk to huge groups of pupils? That’s terrifying! Can’t I just stay under my rock and keep writing?
  • Well waddayaknow, schools visits are fun! And aren’t these children amazing?
  • But is the book doing well enough? What if my publisher doesn’t want another one? Does it end here? Is this all there is? What is life for? Who am I?
  • Blimey, what lovely tweets about Scavengers! And those bloggers’ reviews aren’t half bad.
  • Is that a decent bestsellers rank on Amazon? I can’t tell. What if it’s not good enough? Is the book about to bomb?
  • Oh poo, we’ve just set the living room on fire.
  • But at least no-one was hurt. And look at that glowing Scavengers review in the Observer!
  • Awesome! One of my fave ever bookshops has invited me to join its book group for a Scavengers session.
  • But only one person’s turned up. Oof. This is awkward.
  • Actually it’s not. Still a lovely evening, and hurrah, my publisher wants more from me!
  • But they want more than I’d bargained for. Oh jeebus. Can I really pull this off?
  • Of course I can! This is super-amaze-balls!
  • Ouch. These headaches are weird. And the doctor wants an MRI scan of my brain? That doesn’t bode well.
  • What? The Literacy Trust want to use Scavengers to pilot a new reading scheme? You’re joking, right?
  • Pooballs. Scavengers didn’t get nominated for that award I had preposterously high hopes for. Serves me right. I was getting greedy.
  • Eh? Scavengers has been shortlisted for that academy trust’s new book award? And it’s been listed by the Guardian as one of the best books of 2019? Pinch me quick!
  • Oh, hello Doctor. What’s that? The MRI results are in?
  • Yay, my brain’s okay! Which means it can keep doing its job of obsessing, fretting, worrying, agonising…

And so it goes, on and on, up and down, until you find yourself in a constant state of giddy nausea.

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Jabbering at Walton Girls’ High School, Grantham

And as for the fretting: it’s bizarre, isn’t it? Putting that snapshot together has got me thinking that, actually, it’s been a damn good year for Scavengers. Not a bad start at all. Why on earth have I spent so much time worrying?

It’s not just me, though. Pretty much every author I’ve met endures the same fear – the same niggling sense of impostor syndrome. At a recent Waterstones event, I met a writer whose books are bestsellers all over the world, and even she still worries. It seems to me that most authors are waiting to get the rugs pulled from under their feet – to get caught out, rumbled and ousted. Maybe none of us can believe our luck. I know I can’t.

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Some brilliant Scavengers art from Iona School, Nottingham

Anyhow, it’s been a surreal year of anxiety and elation. And as draining as that is, I absolutely love it. These sweeping emotions are proof of how much I care about this privilege. I’m approaching forty now, and I’ve had tonnes of jobs, but this is the first one I’ve truly cared about. I care about it more deeply than words can say. And I’m not just talking about the writing and the publication. I’m talking about the cause – about being involved in getting children reading.

Which is why working with the Literacy Trust has been one of my highlights of 2019. You can find details of the Trust’s pilot with Scavengers here. It’s essentially about carrying the love of reading across from primary to secondary school. But it’s about more than that too. It’s about getting real books into the hands of children living in deprived areas – about supporting their imagination and their reading. It’s about breaking the vicious cycles that tie poverty and low literacy together. It’s about prospects and social mobility.

These are things I feel very strongly about, and it’s such an honour to see Scavengers playing its part. Meeting pupils involved in the scheme has been a delight, and apparently Scavengers is going down really well at the schools involved. I can’t wait to check in with them in January.

Iona School books pic

I’m going to wrap up now by thanking everyone who’s made 2019 such a bizarre and brilliant year for me. All the editors and agents, artists and designers, bloggers and champions, teachers and librarians, publicists and booksellers, societies and charities, writers and readers… You’ve all been amazing, and you’re doing such vital, remarkable work.

So I raise my glass to each and every one of you. Have yourselves an awesome Christmas – you’ve earned it – and here’s to the 20s.

Much love,
Darren