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 very happy 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 out the slideshow below.

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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.)

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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?

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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!

Ever had that?

Have you ever had that moment when you’re strolling with your headphones on and there’s a garden party ahead full of tracksuited guys downing cans of lager and listening to loud hip hop and one of them – the one with the shaved head and the red face – merrily beckons you over for a high five and you don’t want to be rude or judge unfairly so you head over to high five their massive sticky hand and pull down your headphones just in case they want to say something and they ask what you’re listening to and you say “ummm” and they ask to have a listen, and they seem cheery enough and you don’t want to be rude so you nervously hand them your headphones and as they expand them so they can fit over their massive shaved head you wish you were listening to anything – ANYTHING – but 90s Swedish prog that basically sounds like goblin opera, and they listen for a moment and squint their eyes and nod to themselves, then hand back your headphones and say “You don’t wanna be crossing the road with all that going on,” and you laugh hysterically because of the nerves and say “yeah, have to keep your wits about you” and then walk away feeling lucky to be alive but tormented for having been a paranoid snob and having feared the worst. Ever had that?

On editing a novel (plus some guff about Art Attack)

Do you remember Art Attack? If you do, you might recall that there was a segment in each episode where Scouse da Vinci Neil Buchanan created a giant picture out of some random material – a unicorn out of paperclips, for example, or a robot out of lentils.

Imagine him getting to work on a giant school bus made of school uniforms. He scatters some trousers around to make the wheels, nods to himself and starts on the bus’s door. He prances around, tossing school ties here and red sweaters there, occasionally grinning at the camera while the bus in his mind takes shape at his feet. Then he steps back and opens his arms, and the camera pans out from above to reveal not a bus, but a hideous leering clown face that causes the kids at home to pee their pants and run to their mums.

How did this happen? I’ll tell you how. Neil forgot to get into his cherry picker crane every now and then. He just kept at it on the ground, lost in an enthusiastic flurry of school clothes, and neglected to take an occasional look from above to make sure his bus looked like a bus.

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When writing a book, the equivalent of getting into this cherry picker is editing. It’s wise to look at your work from a distance to make sure not only that it works, but that it works as well as it can. And it’s even wiser to have someone else in the cherry picker with you – someone more detached to look at the woods while you’re hopelessly lost in the trees. That’s what Kirsty Fox (Big Cheese at Bees Make Honey) and I are doing now for The Dust on the Moth (which, in case you missed it, recently got funded through a Kickstarter campaign). At this very moment, Kirsty is reading the manuscript for the umpteenth time to check that its bizarre little story holds together and gives the reader the ultimate Dust on the Moth experience.

That’s right. While you lounge comfortably on your sofa and read this, Kirsty’s hunched over a tattered manuscript and scouring it with her tired, beady eye. She hasn’t slept in days. She consumes nothing but bread and water; preparing anything else would cost precious editing time. She’s stranded high up on the cherry picker, checking the novel’s themes, its story arc, its character development, its internal logic and its self-contained worlds. Once satisfied she’ll lower the cherry picker to get a little closer. Would Mr Malarkey really say this to Anna? That gibbon wasn’t in the grotto before, was it? Did Cardinal Bilibin always have those long pink fingernails? Shouldn’t the pace be picked up for this chase scene in the desert?

Once Kirsty’s done, she’ll be sending me another pile of grumbles to be addressed, and I’ll get to work once again, chipping away here and there at near-imperceptible imperfections. This pile of grumbles gets smaller each time, so we’re getting there.

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Editing The Dust on the Moth has been interesting. It’s the first time I’ve been edited by someone else. There was a time when I naively didn’t see the point in having an editor. Why let someone dilute your work? Why not keep your vision pure? What I forgot to consider back then is that writers – well, most writers – write not for themselves, but for others. And that’s why you need a savvy set of eyes to give you an outsider’s perspective and ensure your school bus isn’t in fact a scary clown.

Your editor doesn’t just need to be savvy, of course. If a book is to remain true to itself, the relationship between writer and editor needs to be an enthusiastic and sympathetic one. Fortunately for all of us, Kirsty is very passionate about The Dust on the Moth – she’s publishing the damn thing – and it’s been clear since we first discussed the novel that she “gets” it. It also helps that she’s a very talented writer herself. Which all means that I trust her and value her editing suggestions. Sometimes there’s a little negotiation, but 95% of the time we see eye to eye.

Editing the novel has been good for me as a writer too. I’ve learned a lot and have become more audience-aware and critical of my writing. I now know about the pitfalls of “info dumps”, dialogue tags and a plethora of other no-nos. There are “rules” for how a novel should best be presented to the reader, most of which make sense to me (every bit of the novel must serve a purpose, for example), but some which I take with a pinch of salt. If every writer followed every rule, books would start to get a bit samey. In fact, since learning about editing, I’ve already started to spot certain patterns in contemporary novels. At times there’s almost a sense of going through the motions.

This won’t be happening to The Dust on the Moth. We’re going to be careful and sensitive. We’re going to make it as polished as we can, without compromising any of its uniqueness or spirit. And when we’re done we’ll be another step closer to making The Dust on the Moth a beautiful reality.

It’s going to be sweeeeet. Look out for it from November 2015.

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The results are in: The Dust on the Moth has been funded!

Well who’d have thunk it… We actually did it! Bees Make Honey‘s Kickstarter campaign met its target! It even became a Kickstarter Staff Pick and Featured Publishing Project on the way. And now we have the funding to make this preposterous a dream a preposterous reality. Power to the people.

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Not that I’m going to pretend it was a walk in the park. A whole month of boring your friends and begging for money wasn’t exactly a bag of fun. And then there was the nail-devouring finale! Crikey. Being involved in a Kickstarter campaign is one of the most harrowing, agonising and exciting things I’ve ever done. I nearly threw up on several occasions towards the end, I swear.

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But it paid off, and now – thanks to the support of our wonderful pledgers – we have the funding to produce The Dust on the Moth and its accompanying soundtrack. Over the next few months we’ll be putting the story through two more rounds of editing, preparing more photos and illustrations, and then squeezing the lot into an exquisite hardback cover. On top of that we’ll be finishing the soundtrack, printing posters and further refining our awkward silences (one of our quirkier pledger rewards). We’re going to polish and polish until the whole thing dazzles with strange brilliance. We owe our pledgers that much.

The book is scheduled for publication in November. If you like beautifully ornamented literary fiction that gives two fingers to genre, have a gander and maybe even treat yourself. That way, as the nights grow long and the frost begins to settle, you’ll be deeply absorbed in a feast for the eyes, ears and fingertips (and even the nose, if you’re showing that quirkier symptom of the digital age).

If you’re interested in finding out a little bit more about the project, here are some very kind words from Mary Corcoran on the significance of The Dust on the Moth and our supporters’ part in it.

Cheers!
Darren

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