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.

Iona School 010319

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.

DSC_6040 (Rich Dytch)

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.

Iona School books pic

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