Publication week for The Memory Thieves

I am well and truly spent. But in the best possible way.

Last week saw the publication of my latest book, The Memory Thieves, and I’m only just starting to recover. A lot has happened, so I’ll just whizz through some selected bobbins here.

Even before publication week, things were getting pretty giddy, thanks to great reviews in The Bookseller, on NetGalley and from various book bloggers. I was also amazed to see The Memory Thieves selected as one of World Book Day’s Sizzling Summer Reads!

Things didn’t let up, with The Memory Thieves being highlighted by the likes of The Reader Teacher, Just Imagine, Love Reading for Kids, Hive, School Reading List and The Book Whisperer as a top title for August.

Not that any of this kept the jitters at bay. I thought publication would be less nerve-racking this time round, but it seems not. I suspect THE FEAR will never truly go away. But maybe that’s a good thing. As draining as it is, it’s kind of fun to ride those nervy waves of hysteria.

Anyhow, on to publication week itself, which kicked off with my first ever blog tour, organised by the good folk at Usborne Publishing.

You can drop by the tour stops, if you fancy:

Gripping reads with The Reading Realm
Review by Lily and the Fae
Q&A with Book-Bound
Talking emotions with FCBG
Exclusive chapter extract with VIP Reading
Review by Chris Soul
Review by The Book Whisperer

And if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can check out the feature published by Nottingham City of Literature to coincide with The Memory Thieves‘ release.

The Tuesday before publication found me rushing around London like a frenzied bumpkin, signing stock at indie bookshops The Children’s Bookshop, Daunt Books Hampstead and Alligator’s Mouth. It was such a treat to meet booksellers and see my book on display. And as an added bonus, while at The Children’s Bookshop, I bumped into Elle McNicoll, who just happened to be on a book tour that day too! Naturally I grabbed a signed copy of A Kind of Spark, and she kindly reciprocated with The Memory Thieves. (I finished A Kind of Spark recently, by the way, and recommend it heartily; honestly one of the best children’s books I’ve read, and well deserving of its glory and awards.)

While in London that day, I was treated to lunch by my editor and publicist, Stephanie King and Kat Javonavic; it turns out the publisher’s lunch isn’t just a myth! I also had an interview with BBC Radio Berkshire, and finished off with a very welcome pint (maybe more) with my awesome literary agent, Laura Susijn.

I’d barely got my breath back by the time publication day rolled around. That day was spent mostly manning all stations on social media while people sent congratulations and shouted about The Memory Thieves. I nipped into Nottingham indie bookshop Five Leaves to sign stock (both of Nottingham’s Waterstones have signed stock now, too), and that evening had a virtual book launch with friends, family and various peeps from the bookish community. Even though I was feeling frazzled, it was wonderful to see loved ones, industry colleagues and kidlit enthusiasts, and to toast them with some cheap fizz. And the (quite literal) icing on the cake was an actual Memory Thieves cake, which my amazing wife and sons surprised me with at the end of the night! Unbelievable. (But also very believable; that’s how my wife rolls.)

Besides a couple of virtual author events, I’ve been gradually recuperating since publication week, bracing myself for whatever comes next. There’s some great stuff in the pipeline, so follow me on Twitter or Instagram to keep up with the latest.

One final thing. I owe an immense debt to so many people who’ve championed my writing and helped me to be in this blessed, surreal position. I’d therefore like to end this post with the acknowledgements in The Memory Thieves. My thanks also go to you – yes, you – for taking an interest. You could be binge watching something now. Or having a sly nap. So thank you for being here.

Much love,
Darren

New book! Say ahoy to The Memory Thieves

To anyone who’s sick of me guffing on about Scavengers: REJOICE! For my publisher has officially announced my next book, The Memory Thieves!

Check out Usborne Publishing’s tweet below, and press play to watch a fancy-schmancy animated version of the book cover (brought to life by Usborne’s Penelope Mazza):

Here’s the actual full cover, which was illustrated and designed by the uber-talented Matt Saunders and Will Steele:

Not too shabby, eh? I love this cover. It captures the book’s atmosphere so well, and looks great next to Scavengers, which is a really big deal for me.

The Memory Thieves will be published on 5 August, and is available for pre-order from your local bookshop and the usual online places, including Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. It’ll also be available to reviewers on Netgalley from 13 May!

But what’s this book about? Are those two teens on the cover hiding from something? Why are rusted ships stranded on those dunes? Is that a whale skeleton? And what’s that strange, cuboid building in the distance?

Here’s the blurb:

What you don’t remember can’t hurt you…

Cyan has lived at the Elsewhere Sanctuary for as long as he can remember, freed by Dr Haven from dark memories of his past life. But when Cyan finds a mysterious warning carved into the bones of a whale skeleton, he starts to wonder what he had to forget to be so happy.

New resident, Jonquil, begins to resist the sanctuary’s treatment, preferring to hold on to her memories – even the bad ones. So when Dr Haven resorts to harsher measures, Cyan embarks on a secret mission to discover the truth about the sanctuary…and himself.

“Marvellously visual and gripping” – A. M. Howell

The Memory Thieves is part sci-fi, part magic realism, all edge-of-your-seat mystery adventure. And like Scavengers, it’s a little darker than the usual fare for older children. Readers so far have described it as tense, haunting, gripping, thought-provoking, creepy and adrenalin-fuelled. But there’s fun, friendship and camaraderie too.

I don’t want to say anything further about the book just yet, but will reveal more as time goes on. I’ll be back on the blog down the line, but in the meantime, feel free to follow my Twitter or Instagram accounts for tidbits of news.

Stay safe,
Darren

Scavengers turns two! (Plus recent news nuggets)

First things first. Wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope you’re well and healthy and hanging in there.

This is a quick post to share some news nuggets, the most recent being that March saw Scavengers hit its second birthday. Whoop whoop! I celebrated in style by (a) singing happy birthday to my toddling book, and (b) seeing whether I could fit an entire birthday muffin into my mouth. You can check out the results of my messy experiment here. Real classy.

Beyond blueberry gluttony, there’s other news too.

Firstly, I’m delighted to say that Scavengers has been selected as part of Empathy Lab’s 2021 #ReadForEmpathy collection! Every year, Empathy Lab recommends a collection of books designed to nurture empathy – something that’s truly vital during pandemic times – in young people. To have Scavengers‘ empathy-stirring qualities recognised in this way means a huge amount to me, and I highly recommend you check out the collection’s other brilliant titles. Here’s what Empathy Lab say about Scavengers:

“Landfill lives as a scavenger and longs to venture Outside. At the heart of this strange world is the need for connection and hope. A shocking, poignant, unforgettable blast of a read, about breaking down walls and facing fears head on.”

Next comes some particularly awesome news. Brace yourself.

If you’ve been following Scavengers, you may know about the inspiration I took from children living on landfill sites in developing countries. One landfill site I became familiar with during book research was Bantar Gebang in Indonesia. I was really moved by photos taken by Javad Tizmaghz of its scavenger community, and asked Javad for permission to use his photos in school presentations about my book. Javad was incredibly kind and gracious; he not only gave me his permission, but also offered to send a copy of Scavengers to Bantar Gebang.

Photo by Javad Tizmaghz for The Guardian

The thought of Scavengers reaching the very people who’d helped inspire it blew my mind, and before I knew it I was in contact with Resa Boenard, who runs the BGBJ hostel that does so much to support Bantar Gebang’s families. On top of that, my wonderful publisher, Usborne, offered to send a box of copies of Scavengers to Bantar Gebang’s school! Here’s one of those very copies, modelled by Resa at the landfill site:

Incredible, right? Scavengers has gone full circle and found its way to the source of its inspiration. It’s something I never would have dreamed of.

Moving quickly on (before I start welling up over the whole Bantar Gebang thing), I’m ultra-chuffed to be working with the Literacy Trust’s Read On Nottingham hub again, this time to support the Trust’s #ConnectingStories campaign. This is an Arts Council-funded initiative designed to get young people and communities engaged with books and writing, in an attempt to help children’s wellbeing and literacy in disadvantaged areas. This is more crucial now than ever due to the damage done on these fronts by the pandemic. You can find full details of this brilliant project here, and I feel honoured to be joining authors L.D. Lapinksi and William Hussey in promoting the campaign in Nottingham. We’ll be getting involved in virtual school visits and writing competitions (watch this space) and much more.

One final thing: I’d like to talk about World Book Day. It may not have been your average World Book Day this year, but it takes more than a global pandemic to quell people’s passion for books and reading. I couldn’t visit any schools in person, but I had the honour of talking books on BBC Radio Nottingham that morning, and then visiting Seely School, Eden Boys’ School and the Ashcombe School virtually to talk about Scavengers and the many joys of reading and writing. It was fantastic to see all the bookish costumes that day, and to engage with so many savvy, imaginative and enthusiastic students.

But the most emotional highlight of the day had to be seeing my eldest son dress up as Landfill from Scavengers. It was all his idea, I swear. I can’t deny that some of my son’s personality made it into Landfill’s character, so it was a strange and moving thing to see him dressed as the book’s young hero.

Here he is, with his homemade dross cape in all its grubby glory:

Again, Scavengers seems to be coming full circle. Which seems somehow apt as it hits its second birthday. Things move so quickly in children’s publishing, and I’m so pleased to see Scavengers still finding fans and popping up in all sorts of unexpected places, even two years after publication.

But enough about Scavengers, right? Can I really keep milking just one book?

Probably not. But thankfully I’ll soon have another book to harp on about. Usborne are publishing my next novel this summer, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Official news will be released this spring, so watch this space…

#SignForOurBookshops

Independent bookshops have a lot to contend with, and things are even harder for them now they’ve shut their doors for national lockdown. The fact that this has happened in the run-up to Christmas makes matters all the worse.

That’s why the awesome Holly Bourne has launched #SignForOurBookshops.

The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. In short, authors are sending bookplates (like the ones I’ve signed below, which can be stuck into books) to anyone who’s purchased their book from an independent bookshop, in an effort not only to encourage people to support local bookshops, but also to emphasise what makes indie bookshops so very special.

Over two hundred authors are already taking part (check out #SignForOurBookshops on Twitter), and I’m one of them!

So if you’d like a signed and dedicated bookplate for a copy of Scavengers (for yourself, or perhaps as a Christmas gift), make your purchase from one of the UK’s many indie bookshops (many offer online shopping via their websites or bookshop.org), then contact me with details of

  • who the bookplate should be dedicated to,
  • any preferred message from me,
  • and the address to send the bookplate to.

I’ll then respond, and when I have your indie bookshop proof of purchase, I’ll get the bookplate in the post for you.

I can only post bookplates within the UK, I’m afraid, and I’ll send out any plates requested before #SignForOurBookshops ends on 2 December. After that, bookshops will hopefully be able to open again.

It goes without saying, of course, that indie bookshops are wondrous places staffed by discerning book lovers. They offer not only a special shopping experience, but also community, discovery and expertise. Let’s show them some love.

Thank you and stay safe.

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:

wordcloud 1_2_Made-up nouns

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:

Iona 15Iona 16Iona 11Iona 6Iona 12Iona 13Iona 7Iona 4Iona 14Iona 8Iona 10Iona 3Iona 5Iona 2Iona 9Iona 1

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.