Scavengers and the Bengaluru Sustainability Forum

As always, it’s been a while since my last post. And it’s the usual excuse. Same-old same-old, I’ve been busy. Busy writing my next two books. Busy with school runs, shopping, gardening, bodge-job repairs, never-ending dadmin. Busy trying to stay sane while the world loses its mind. Busy trying to ration the worst of the news. Busy doing my best to focus on the good things – on the rays of light and the silver linings.

But enough about me. How are you? You doing okay? Wherever you are, I hope you’re coping and hanging on, and finding joy wherever you can. There’s still plenty to go round, I swear.

And talking of joy, this is a quick post to share something wonderful that happened in the summer.

When I finally got published, I naturally hoped for good things for my debut novel. I hoped for a good reception – for happy readers, positive reviews, and maybe even accolades. And Scavengers didn’t do too badly on those fronts. For that, I’m extremely grateful.

But one thing I didn’t hope for – merely because I never imagined it could happen – was for a sustainability forum in India to launch a reading initiative with my book.

That’s exactly what happened this summer. Imagine my surprise when I received an incredibly enthusiastic email from Lena, Coordinator of the Bengaluru Sustainability Forum, to say that the forum had selected Scavengers as the first book to be discussed for its Reading for Change initiative.

That’s how it all started. Before I knew it we’d arranged a live Instagram interview, which was to take place before a YouTube discussion on Scavengers in relation to waste pickers in Bangalore and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The YouTube discussion, along with other details about the events and their lovely speakers, are all available in this ultra-handy webpage.

A drawing of Hinterland by BABAKIKI, inspired by the Reading for Change initiative

Have a gander. It’s honestly brilliant, and a real privilege to see Scavengers getting picked up as a book that ties in deeply with sustainability issues.

I won’t blabber further. You all have things to do and silver linings to find. So I’ll end with a heartfelt thank you to Lena Robra, Taanika Shankar, Lakshmi Karunakaran, Seema Mundoli, BABAKIKI art studio and all at the Champaca bookshop for playing their awesome parts in this humbling experience.

Stay safe and over and out!

New “Rollercoasters” edition of Scavengers

Crikey, it’s been half a year since I last posted here. Hang your head in shame, Darren.

It’s the usual excuse: I’ve been busy. Busy working. Busy writing. Busy homeschooling. Busy watching the world eat itself alive. These are certainly interesting times. But good things are happening too. Let’s hope we all come out of this to a fairer and wiser world. I try to be optimistic. Chocolate helps.

But I offer a small ray of sunshine for these days of storms and rainbows. Are you ready? Can I have a drum roll?

No? Okay. Skip the drum roll.

I’m pleased as pickles to announce that Oxford University Press have just published their very own “Rollercoasters” edition of Scavengers! Check out its stunning cover:

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Ain’t it a beauty? I absolutely love it. It’s very different to the original artwork, but just as true to the book’s spirit, I think.

But there’s a lot more to this edition than a new cover. It’s aimed specifically at the classroom, and like the rest of the books in the “Rollercoasters” series, Oxford University Press have added student-friendly notes, awesome insights, and an exclusive interview with the book’s baffled and massively grateful author.

Here’s a sneak peak of one of word clouds put together by OUP, showing the book’s made-up nouns by frequency:

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Pretty nifty, right? Who’d have thought the stinkbucket would feature so predominantly?

I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this fantastic collection – alongside the brilliant likes of Malorie Blackman, Geraldine McCaughrean, Katherine Rundell and H.G. Wells – and am so excited at the thought of Scavengers finding its way into more classrooms, so that it can help young readers to explore rules and loyalty, waste and sustainability, and the walls of fear, blame and prejudice that are built all around them.

That’s me done for now. I hope you’re all well, and send you much love.

Cheers,
Darren

 

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

Scavengers art from the Iona School, Nottingham

Did I ever mention that I never intended to write for children? I always wrote for adults before. My early crowdfunded novel, The Dust on the Moth, is very much a novel for adults. Even Scavengers, in its primitive stages, was written for adult readers.

But life happens, right? Life conspires, even, and before you know it, you’re writing for children.

It was a happy accident. I feel chuffed to have ended up where I am. It turns out that, while there are certain “rules” to consider when writing for younger readers, there’s also a freedom that suits itself to my writing. A wide-eyed openness to ideas. A certain attitude – perhaps even a non-attitude – concerning pigeonholes.

On top of that, I’m always inspired by the children I get to meet when visiting schools and libraries. I love their bravery, enthusiasm and energy. I love how much they care. And the children’s publishing community as a whole is so supportive and kind. We’re all on the same team, working for the same cause.

But one of the best things about writing for children is their reader art. I love children’s art at the best of times, so it’s a strange and surreal bonus when it’s based on Scavengers. What a moving thing it is to see drawings inspired by something you’ve written! It’s something I’d never imagined happening – not in all the ten years I’ve been writing.

I recently received a batch of wonderful pictures from Year 6 pupils at the Iona School in Nottingham, who are reading Scavengers as their term text. Check them out:

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Hunkadory, eh?

The Iona School’s Year 6 pupils hold a very special place in my heart. I tested my first ever Scavengers presentation on them, along with my first ever workshop, and I couldn’t have asked for a keener, funnier and more enthusiastic bunch of guinea pigs. They helped to magically transmute a lot of my newbie nerves into excitement. For that I can never thank them enough.

Sincere thanks also their teacher, Maria Woolley, for staying in touch, for taking the time to send these pictures, and for simply being an awesome teacher.

Cheers,
Darren

 

Scavengers Four Months On (A Horrendous Splurge of a Blog Post)

Okay, it’s been about a third of a year since I last left Scavengers grubbins here, so I guess I’m due a blog post. Just to warn you, though: life these days is a rickety rollercoaster, so I’ll be surprised if this ends up in any way coherent. Don’t build your hopes up for well-structured reflections on what’s gone on over the last four months; this is more akin to a spurge of word-vomit onto my keyboard.

So where do I start?

Let’s begin with a section I’ll vaguely treat as

Stuff I’ve been up to

There’s been a few school visits. I went to Walton Girls’ High School and to Allington with Sedgebrook Church Of England Primary School – both in Grantham – and also to the Iona School in Nottingham. And more recently I went to the newly sited Almondbury Library in Huddersfield, to meet pupils from Lowerhouses School and Almondbury Community School.

Most of these visits were made to give my Scavengers presentation, but the trip to Iona School was a slight return (see earlier blog post), to test out and polish my Scavengers workshop. Which went down pretty well, I think. Students were laughing and writing, and that’s what we all want, right?

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Walton Girls’ High School, Grantham

Now that I’ve just about conquered my fear of standing in front of halls packed with pupils, school visits are a barrel of fun. I’m always hiding my jitters behind a twitchy smile while pupils file in, but the presentation soon begins, and before I know it pupils are chuckling and throwing their hands up to contribute, and the nerves are gone. School visits are weirdly emotionally draining, but that’s because they’re so emotionally involving. A matter of stamina, methinks.

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I’ll say it again: the school children I meet inspire me and fill me with hope. There’s just so much energy in those halls; so much humour, insight, thoughtfulness,  inquisitiveness and bravery. I honestly leave schools feeling more optimistic about the future. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s in good hands.

My return to Iona School was particularly amusing. The pupils there are reading Scavengers as their term text, which meant the workshop was interrupted at regular intervals by pupils fishing for clues as to what happens next in the novel. I didn’t cave, though. Kids can puppy-eye all they want, but they’ll get no spoilers from me.

By the way, if you’re a teacher or librarian and you’re interested in booking me for a visit, have a gander at my shiny new Schools and Events page.

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Walton Girls’ High School, Grantham

Beyond school visits, I ran an Easter Scavengers event at Nottingham’s Waterstones, and in April also had the pleasure of attending the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Conference in Caterham. Usborne kindly gave me their entire two-minute slot at the publishers’ presentation session. This meant I had a strict 120 seconds to waffle about Scavengers to an auditorium full of publishing and FCBG representatives. The pressure was seriously on; over-treading the designated two minutes by even a second would mean falling through a trapdoor into a volcano full of lava-proof sharks.

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Scavengers event at Nottingham’s Waterstones

Okay, so I made the trapdoor thing up. The lava and sharks too. But the pressure was most certainly still on. And it got to me, a little. I’d been rehearsing my two minutes of guff for two weeks beforehand, and had it down to a tee. But the long wait in the auditorium had my nerves a-jiggling and – after what appeared to be a smooth start – I ground to a halt at some point in the middle of my speech. Witnesses tell me I only faltered for a few moments. To me it felt like I’d been plummeting for several hours into a soundless abyss.

I recovered, though. That’s the main thing. I said all I’d planned to say, and have heard that feedback at the evening dinner was very positive. Mind you, perhaps the wine and Prosecco were in full flow by then.

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About to plunge into a volcano at the FCBG 2019 Conference

One of the best things about the conference was hanging out at Usborne’s exhibition stand, because I got to meet Sara Sumner and Samantha Thomas – two people who’ve been championing Scavengers right from the start. They were as lovely as I’d imagined they’d be, and it’s always great to meet the people behind the Twitter profiles.

This is dragging on, so I’m going to wrap this so-called “section” up with bullet points.

So, as well as the above,

  • I got to meet Writing East Midlands young writers’ group three times:
    • once to attend one of their workshops for an author Q&A;
    • again to lead a special Scavengers workshop, which involved dragging these young scribes around Nottingham’s town square to find inspiration in the mundane and everyday – the results ranged from dystopian drama to eco poetry and cosmic farce, and every piece was amazing;
    • and once more to check out their showcase on National Writing Day at Nottingham’s central library – again, incredible talent and range, with a lovely celebratory atmosphere, and seeing live poetry in action was quite an eye opener;
  • I received a home visit from the lovely Rob and Andy of VIP Reading during their #VIPreadtrip, so that they could film me for some VIP Reading video resources;
  • I had the pleasure of sharing an event with the lovely and very funny Kate Mallinder at this year’s Lowdham Book Festival;
  • and last but by no means least, I had a surprise Scavengers party thrown at me by my incredible wife, which almost had me spewing with equal measures of joy and mortification.

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Caught off-guard for a Scavengers celebration

Okay. Moving on. The next sort-of-section of this mess will cover

The reception of Scavengers

It’s been amazing, really. Overwhelming. Every time you think things have gone quiet and no-one’s reading your book, you receive some mind-bending news or a random tweet by someone saying how much they’ve enjoyed it.

Scavengers has had some very enthusiastic reviews from bloggers (special shout-outs to Lily and the Fae, Book-boundReadItDaddy, Chris Soul, NottsLit and Bellis Does Books), and has also received great reviews on the likes of Amazon, goodreads and waterstones.com (if you happen to have enjoyed Scavengers, it’d be massively appreciated if you could toss some stars and words at it in these sorts of places; it all helps with the algorithmic magic). It was also a Book Club Highlight in Reading Zone‘s children’s and librarians’ newsletters.

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The Writing East Midlands Scavengers workshop 

Scavengers has done particularly well on Toppsta. It was selected in April as one of 2019’s Best Debut Novels, and more recently made it into Toppsta’s Most Popular Books of 2019 So Far. This means a huge amount to me, as Toppsta reviews come from children, and for me, children’s thoughts on the book are particularly important. Not only because children are the book’s target readership, but also because children are insightful, discerning, and brutally honest. Reading a glowing review from a younger reader honestly makes me well up, every single time.

Scavengers has also been recommended on radio book clubs a couple of times (hello BBC Radio Berkshire), but here are a couple of seriously big biggies: in April, Scavengers was selected a standout children’s book in the Observer and Guardian, and – as if that wasn’t enough – last month it was selected as one of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2019 So Far! Bonkers. My baby book, barely able to walk, stumbling like a newborn Bambi, hanging out with the likes of Toni Morrison and Angie Thomas. Yikes, yikes and more yikes.

I’m retching now. There’s only so much of this look-at-me-look-at-me I can bear. So, without further ado, let’s move swiftly on to the final section, in which I’ll skim over

What’s to come

I’m looking forward to some more presentations and workshops at schools this month. I’ll be returning to Grantham to visit the Priory Ruskin Academy, and closer to home I’ll be visiting Arnold Hill Academy and Nottingham Free School. The latter two visits have been set up by Nottingham City of Literature’s Young Ambassadors, with whom it’s a real pleasure and privilege to work with.

The Five Leaves Bookshop, which so wonderfully hosted Scavengers‘ launch all those aeons ago, have a book group, and on 31 July they’ll be getting together to discuss and dissect Scavengers. I’ll be popping in for the second half to answer any questions, and will be using a large glass of wine to shield myself from whatever’s thrown at me. If you fancy joining in, come along.

And finally (deep breath), there are two Incredibly Exciting Things on the way, but they’ve not yet been officially announced, so I can’t reveal much. Let’s just say that one relates to what follows Scavengers book-wise, and the other ties in with a scheme that will hopefully see Scavengers doing good for a cause that’s very close to my heart. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But alas, for now, mum’s the word.

And that’s it! I’m done. If you’ve made it to the end, well done you. Give yourself a biscuit and a pat on the back. You’ve earned it.

Much love
Darren

Empathy Day at South Nottinghamshire Academy

Well hello there! It’s been a while.

I have a Scavengers update on the way, but this is just a quick post to draw attention to Empathy Day, which took place on 11 June.

Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab, and is an annual celebration of empathy through reading, participated in nationally by publishers, authors, librarians, schools, prisons, and readers of all kinds.

EnpathyLab say it’s been proven through research that reading actively develops people’s ability to empathise.

This makes perfect sense to me. When you’re reading fiction you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – someone who may be a very different person to you, from a very different time or place, but who you can connect with on an emotional level because of everything that’s shared between us. We bleed the same blood. We feel the same feelings.

You only need to look around to see that we’re in serious need of more empathy. The people at the top have barely any connection with or understanding of the people lower down. Politics are falling to pieces. Division, hate, suffering and neglect are rife. Blind eyes are permanently turned. People are shouting at each other all over the internet. Knife crime is on the rise, to the point that first aid kits for knifing attacks are being installed around cities. It goes on and on.

So let’s try to relate a little more. Let’s try to connect emotionally. Let’s stop seeing people – even those we disagree with – as two-dimensional cartoons. Let’s try to see who they really are, where they’re coming from, why they think the way they do, what they have in common with us. No-one’s born with their opinions. If we try harder to empathise, perhaps others will do the same in return. Perhaps this might lead to better understanding – to dialogue, common ground and resolution. Imagine the possibilities.

I celebrated Empathy Day with Year 8 Pupils at South Nottinghamshire Academy. We had a discussion about what empathy is, particularly with regard to its distinction from sympathy, and in terms of the benefits developing empathy can have for individuals and for society as a whole. Then we discussed books that we feel are good for encouraging empathy.

Here are pupils’ notes on four books that were selected as being particularly good for exercising those empathy muscles:

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There were so many other great recommendations, and I was really impressed by the pupils’ receptiveness to the session, and to their thoughtfulness and insight. They were a fantastic bunch. As always, I left a school feeling that little bit more optimistic about the future.

My personal recommendation was Momo by Michael Ende.

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It’s not as famous as Ende’s The Neverending Story, but I think it should be.

To give a brief summary, its protagonist, a young homeless girl called Momo, has a very special super power. She can’t fly, and she can’t shoot lasers out of her eyes. She can’t even afford a cape. But she can listen. She takes her time to listen to people, silently and deeply. She listens and empathises, and by doing so helps people through their problems, or simply makes them feel better.

And then the men in grey appear. The grey men who take grownups’ time away for saving at the time bank, so that the grownups are always short of time and busy-busy-busy, grafting and toiling for goals that don’t bring real happiness, to the point of having no time to listen to each other – no time even to care, about others or about themselves.

Pretty apt, eh? Are there men in grey in your life?

Read. Have fun. Lose yourself in a character. Empathise.

Scavengers and Somersaults – a Publication Week Roundup

‘Tis done. Scavengers was released, like a grubby urchin, into the wild on Thursday 7 March. And what a week that was. I’ve only just managed to pull myself together so I can put shaky hand to keyboard for this blog post. Bear with me.

Where do I start? At the beginning, I guess. Or a little before it. During the calm before publication week, I tried my Scavengers presentation, for the first time ever, on the Year 6 children at the Iona School in Sneinton, Nottingham, who had kindly agreed to be my guinea pigs.

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Photo courtesy of the Iona School

I won’t deny it: I was terrified. So much so that I skipped the buses and spent an hour trekking across Nottingham to the school, in an attempt to walk off some nerves. It turned out there was no need to be anxious, though. Ms Woolley and the children were as warm and welcoming as they were funny and sharp. To my surprise I had an absolute ball, and the experience left me not only excited about further school visits, but also all the more grateful for having ended up writing for children. I was told afterwards that the children were inspired, but I doubt they were as inspired by me as I was by them.

Next up came the Scavengers launch party at the superlative, award-winning Five Leaves Bookshop. This was the Tuesday night before official publication, and by then I was a queasy mess of giddy hysteria. I was also living a surreal, waking dream, since my excitement had been nudging me awake at 4am the previous few mornings.

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Photo courtesy of Richard Dytch

But again, there was nothing to fear. The shop filled up quickly, glasses of wine found their way into hands, and I had support not only from my family and friends, but also from Stephanie King, my amazing editor, who’d kindly made the trip from London to offer congratulatory hugs, a Kafkaesque goat from Usborne (long story), and a speech that just happened to coincide with me having something in my eye.

The launch party was intense but lovely. Having a bunch of people saying nice things about your book and asking you to sign copies is quite a treat, of course, but the best thing was having so many friends – many from different little compartments of my life – all in one place. I don’t get out as much as I once did, so it was great to catch up with buddies, some of whom I haven’t seen in way too long. And afterwards there was pizza and pale ale – the perfect balance of tipple and stodge to bring me gently back to earth.

Next up was publication day, which coincided nicely with World Book Day. The morning was mostly a mix of reflection, gratitude and bewildered Twittering. Then I headed to Seely School in Sherwood, Nottingham, to celebrate World Book Day by giving another Scavengers presentation.

While the Iona School presentation was given to 17 children, the one at Seely School involved 65, and the dynamic was quite different. Who’d have thunk it? They were such a feisty, bubbly bunch, and I loved their energy and keenness to get involved in the session’s interactive elements. There was a technical snag with the projector before I started (isn’t there always?), and I asked the pupils whether anyone would like to come up and do a dance while we all waited. I spoke in jest, but to my amazement a pupil jumped up and – to chants and applause – took a run-up and pulled off an incredible somersault. I couldn’t stop grinning. This cocky gymnast was a tough act to follow, but he set up such a great atmosphere and was one of the highlights of my week.

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Photo courtesy of the Iona School

And as if spontaneous somersaulting wasn’t amazing enough, the morning after the presentation I received an email from one of the pupils’ mothers to say her daughter read all of Scavengers in one night and can’t stop talking about it. Honestly, I wept a little – just a little – in front of my computer screen. I blame tiredness, but there’s no bigger compliment than someone finishing your novel in one sitting. Plus, after having had a lot of adults enthuse about Scavengers, it was a huge relief to know that it works on its primary audience too.

Friday was a mellower affair. I spent the day bussing and training between Waterstones branches in Nottingham, West Bridgford and Leicester to sign stock and drop off Scavengers bookmarks. This was exactly what I needed after such a strange and intense week: lots of walking with my headphones on, and a bit of quiet reading on buses and trains. And it was great to meet the staff at the Waterstones branches, who were all so friendly, kind and enthusiastic.

So that was publication week. It’s been emotional.

Now it’s time to prepare for whatever’s coming next. More school and bookshop visits are on the way, as well as some festival odds and ends. I’m also chuffed to bits to be getting involved with Nottingham City of Literature’s Young Ambassadors programme and Writing East Midlands‘ talented young writers.

Keep an eye on my Twitter account for further news and occasional guff. And if you’re one of the people who’ve bought, read, reviewed or championed Scavengers, thank you so, so much.

Much love,
Darren

 

Those Book Deal Feels (plus super-exciting Summer Reading Challenge bonus!)

Don’t give me that look. I know what you’re thinking: it’s been a long time. A long, long time. Around 28 months since my last blog post. 28 months! Hardly prolific, is it.

But bear with me. My silence is justified. I haven’t been thumb-twiddling all this time. I’ve been busy. And not just with the everyday stuff – you know, populating spreadsheets, making coffee, paying bills, dropping off the kids. Since my last post, I’ve also been busy bagging a book deal.

That’s right. You heard. BOOK. DEAL. Jazz hands and everything.

It’s old news, if I’m totally honest with you. The deal happened at the start of 2018. But even with all the time that’s passed – with the year’s worth of loving graft that’s gone into editing and preparing the book for publication – I’m still trying to get my head around what’s happened. I keep checking the rug beneath my feet. It’s bound to be pulled away, any moment now.

And yet, the rug remains.

So basically, during the final months of 2017, a magical intersection between

(i) my latest manuscript
(ii) the tenacity of my literary agent
(iii) the enthusiasm of a brilliant editor

landed me a book deal with Usborne. Fast-forward to today, and we’re less than two months away from the publication of my debut for younger readers, Scavengers. You can find details on it here. (And yes, Scavengers does involve the goat called Kafka I mentioned in my last blog post, all those eons ago.)

Scavengers - final and cropped front

So how does it feel, to finally pull this off? That’s a funny one. I’d been fantasizing about getting a deal for around a decade while churning out stories and manuscripts. When I imagined getting a deal – something I did frequently, usually when I should have been doing something more important – I envisioned angels and shooting stars. I heard fanfares and fireworks. I saw myself loin-clothed and six-packed astride a unicorn, galloping up a rainbow into a sun-splashed sky.

The reality? Giddiness. Disbelief. Excitement. Insomnia. In no particular order, often all at once. But most of all…relief. Such sweet, sweet relief. Because, you know, when you’ve spent over a decade chasing an absurd dream but not quite getting there, you being to wonder whether you could have used your energy more productively. Perhaps all that time spent at the writing desk could have been put to better use. I could have been painting the kitchen or earning a little more money from the day job. I could have been collecting litter from motorway lay-bys, or adopting orphans and tucking them into warm beds.

But no: I’d been selfishly perching myself at the desk, writing and submitting and writing and submitting in the delirious hope-against-hope that I might one day get a book deal. And after ten years of not quite getting there (even with some literary achievements I’m super-proud of), I started to panic. I began to feel a little desperate – to wonder about putting down my pen and trying something else (even though, in my heart of hearts, I knew the pen would never stay down).

So yes: relief. That’s what I felt more than anything else. But you know what? That relief was sweeter than a ride on any unicorn.

Hot on relief’s tail came gratitude. So many good people have helped to make this happen. A cliché, I know, but I honestly couldn’t have done it without them. Here’s a list of some folk I’d like to thank.

[Disclaimer: I’ve copied and pasted this list from the acknowledgements page of the novel. Not that that makes it any less heartfelt.]

  • Wanda, my ever-patient wife and sounding board, for her endless love and faith, and for being beside me for all the dips and bumps.
  • Oskar and Charlie for the laughs and wonder.
  • Mum and Dad for the books, motorway heroics and everything else.
  • My kick-ass agent, Laura Susijn, for toasties and tenacity.
  • My super-savvy editors, Stephanie King and Sarah Stewart, and all at Usborne HQ for adopting Landfill and giving him such a wonderful home.
  • Tom Clohosy Cole for the awesome art, and for bearing with me.
  • Kirsty Fox and James Alexander for critiques and cake.
  • Tilda Johnson for her eagle eye.
  • Dan Layton, Phil Formby and Bees Make Honey for the Red Stripe, blood, sweat and tears.
  • Chris Baldwin for frites and positivity.
  • Christophe Dejous, Richard Dytch, Matt Eris, Jason Holt, Neil Johnson, Graham Langley, Neil Marsden, Gavin McFarlane, Kieran O’Riordan and Mark Spivey for the music.
  • Diana Pasek-Atkinson for all the reading on the move.
    Matt Turpin and all at Nottingham City of Literature for their enthusiasm and great work.
  • Christina Lee and the University of Nottingham’s English Department for teaching me to read between and beyond the lines.
  • Neil Fulwood, Sophie-Louise Hyde, Chris Killen, Mhairi McFarlane, John McGregor, George Saunders, David Sillitoe, Kim Slater, Jonathan Taylor and Alex Wheatle for their time, kindness and advice.
  • Samuel J. Halpin, A.M. Howell and Serena Patel for their camaraderie (go Class of ’18!).
  • The Five Leaves Bookshop for shelf after shelf of goodness.
  • And all of my family and friends for the big little things. [Buy the novel for more info on big little things.]

That’s to name just a few. It’s taken a cast of thousands. Many of them have helped without even realizing.

Oh, and I also need to thank the wonderful people at The Reading Agency, who have included Scavengers among the books selected for this year’s national Summer Reading Challenge. Amazing. It’s a genuine privilege to be part of a scheme that encourages so many kids to read their hearts out. So much so that I almost got a little weepy after I first heard the news. I was doing the dishes, so was able to insist that I’d got a bit of Fairy Liquid in my eye…

That’s it for now. My first post in over two years! Jabber jabber jabber. I bet you wish I’d stayed away.

Check in every now and then for more news. And you’re welcome to follow me on Twitter if you’d like more frequent guff.

Much love,
Darren

Update on The Dust in the Moth – Reviews and Nottingham City of Literature

I know, I know: it’s been too long. Sorry about that. Busy-busy-busy, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to throw together a blog post for all of my hypothetical, quite probably imaginary readers. If you’re one of said imaginary readers and have been waiting with bated breath for over half a year for this post, I salute your Gandhi-like patience and hope it scratches your itch – which will no doubt by now be a hideous, gaping sore.

So what’s the word? The Moth is the word. While I’ve been pottering away with other nonsense, The Dust on the Moth has been sneaking through shadows and doing its own thing. It’s been on the receiving end of some very kind emails and tweets, and has also had a couple of reviews.

Here’s what Nottingham’s Left Lion had to say:

Conceived via Kickstarter as an ambitious multimedia collaboration, The Dust on the Moth is no ordinary book. Plucked from the slush pile by Nottingham creative community Bees Make Honey, given gorgeous illustrations and a soundtrack, this book is the story of 8 Asgard Street, its three vulnerable young occupants and their overly chummy landlord, the repellent Mr Malarkey. Meanwhile, somewhere else entirely, just on the line between science fiction and fairytale, the rulers of a place called Midgard debate the practicalities of outlawing love. The voyeuristic Mr Malarkey makes for an effectively grotesque and unnerving villain, but the whimsical half of the narrative on Midgard doesn’t quite match up, its inhabitants painted with strokes too broad to engage the reader completely. The Dust on the Moth is an uneven piece of work, but remains a weird, unsettling mix of whimsy, science fiction and the very, very creepy.

A bit of a mixed review, then, but that’s fair dos – it’s a very mixed novel.

And here’s a review from Notts Lit:

A new work of fiction has just come to my attention, an ambitious hardback made in Notts and so original it’s difficult to describe sober. Let me try: Anna, along with Adam (her twin brother), and Henry (her boyfriend), are viewing a rental opportunity – 8 Asgard Street – an eerie gaff with a voyeuristic landlord who flits between creepy and monstrous. This modern Brothers Grimm set up runs parallel to another otherworldly story, a dark fantasy set in a lurid alternate universe that shines a light on our own. Artistic illustrations and photographs accompany the chapters (the book even comes with a six track soundtrack that could be from a sci-fi flick) in this literary feast of rich prose, engaging dialogue and colliding lives. This book is unique, the result of an author’s unfretted talent at work and play. It rings with intrigue and unease. As it is impossible to describe The Dust on the Moth in one word, I’ll give you seven: Experimental. Rich. Creative. Political. Philosophical. Fantastical. Visual.

Too kind, too kind! This review also includes an interview with Kirsty Fox on putting together and funding the Moth. Well worth a peek if you’re interested in collaboration and crowdfunding.

Finally, I’m pleased as Punch to report that the Moth has got the attention of Nottingham City of Literature (did you know Nottingham is one of twelve UNESCO Cities of Literature around the world?), who asked me to write a short article about it, which you can find here.

Moth moth moth… It’s all I ever seem to go on about. But there’s more to life than the Moth, even for me. And other things are indeed happening. As I write, my agent is touting my latest manuscript to various publishers and getting some interest, so I’m crossing every available finger for that. On top of that, this coming autumn – in the wake of lots of planning and research – I’ll finally be putting finger to keyboard for my next novel. I won’t give away too much, but it may involve a goat called Kafka. I’m very excited about it.

Much love,
Darren

It lives! (on publishing The Dust on the Moth, plus launch party news)

Me oh my, what’s this?

Unpacking 4

Okay, so I look like an overenthusiastic, spinsterish librarian, but never mind that. Look at what I’m clutching in my scrawny claw! Yep, it’s The Dust on the Moth. In the flesh! Isn’t she pretty?

To recap, The Dust on the Moth was a manuscript of mine that got picked up by Bees Make Honey, pimped up with photography and illustrations and then crowdfunded through an intense but successful Kickstarter campaign. And now, after months of editing, proofreading, laying out and polishing, the book has been printed and is real. As exhibited below.

Unpacking 8

One of the fundraising campaign’s main angles was our commitment – in an age when almost everything is digitalised – to producing something lavishly tangible that could be held in the hands, probed by the fingers and treasured on shelves and coffee tables. At the time the statement felt partially like something said out of principle. But now, with the result of our efforts actually existing as a physical part of the world, I’m reminded of the joys of something as (deceptively) simple as a lovingly designed hardback.

I feel proud to have been a part of this, and am genuinely humbled by the superhuman effort Bees Make Honey put into making the book so special, and by the generosity of the backers who funded its production. Putting the book together involved an unbelievable amount of work (just ask Dan, the book’s designer and a faded husk of the man he once was), and there were giddy highs and queasy lows and late nights spent editing, bubble-wrapping and gnawing at fingernails. But it was a sweaty labour of love and gratitude, and I hope our backers are happy with the result. I know we are.

Many years ago, some unsung boffin calculated that a picture paints a thousand words. So, to save me from more writing and you from more reading, here are 6000 words’ worth of images from The Dust on the Moth.

More information on the book and on how to get hold of a copy is available here.

One last thing. We’re having a launch party for The Dust on the Moth at Nottingham’s Creative Occupations Bureau on the evening of 5 March. If you’re in the area, pop in and join us for booze and cake. Hope to see you there!