Thursday 26 February 2015

The worst first draft ever

I recently finished the first draft of my latest novel. It was puzzlingly short. It was running at 49,000 words – just about long enough for a young adult novel but certainly much shorter than the other two in the cycle. The first one is published and started out at about 100,000 words but was edited back to 95,000 words. The second, as yet unpublished, is also about 100,000 words.
Normally a second draft will only involve putting a few extra bits and pieces. This time I’m putting in eight new chapters. I’m changing from a third person narrative to a first person. I’m bringing in a second point of view character and in fact he commands the opening chapters.    

Monday 23 February 2015

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher

This is the title of a conference I’m organising on the 21 March at the University of Salford.  It’s all about the young adult novel. Does it push boundaries? Does it become ever more excellent?

Arguably the young adult novel has always existed as has the young adult, though neither were recognised or named until recently. As we moved into the 21st century there was an explosion in the number of young adult novels being read and written.

This conference explores the nature of this energetic novel form and asks writers, readers, academics, educationalists, those who work with young people and other interested parties the following questions of the young adult novel:
  • Who are its readers?
  • What is its nature?
  • Which are its themes?
  • What does it look like now?
  • How is it written?
  • Why does it exist?
  • Will it endure?
  • What will it look like in the future?
The conference is aimed at academics, writers, teachers, parents and school librarians.    
Keynote speakers are Melvin Burgess and Nicola Morgan.
There is still some more room for a few academic papers on the above themes or for session suitable for educationalists and writers. We do have content for the whole day but can look at parallel sessions. If you’re interested in offering any of these, contact me via the contact form on this blog.
If you’d just like to sign up for the conference, you can do so here.             

Sunday 8 February 2015

The Ministry of Stories and the Monster Supply Store

Occasionally I go and help out at the Ministry of Stories. The Ministry of Stories is in a secret location, hidden behind the Monster Supply Store, Hoxton, London. It may all sound a little odd for an academic but then when you remember that I write for children and young adults and that I do this as part of my job as a senior lecturer at the University of Salford and when you also remember that David Eggers kick-started the Ministry of Stories it all sounds a little more reasonable.
And thankfully, it remains whacky.


Just over a week ago a missive came from the Ministry. It was along the lines of “Help, we’ve over-ordered milk tooth chocolate and need to shift it fast. We’re selling it at £1.00 a bar. Please buy.”
Who could resist?
I ordered five bars and a curse to boot. By the time I’d paid postage I was looking at about £8.00.  My curse was simply “Bad luck!” Ah well.
The Monster Supply store sells good quality goods repackaged. The milk tooth chocolate is actually luxury milk chocolate full of roasted nut chips. “Banshee balls” are aniseeds balls. “Salt made from sneezing” is a mixture of sea salt and ground black pepper. “Cubed earwax” is clotted cream fudge.
When school groups visit the Ministry, children will spend a little in the shop. The main customers however, are supportive adults who use the mail order facility and some of the adult visitors who come to the store and the Ministry.

Magic and practicality

It does heighten the mystery for the children who visit: having to sneak  in through the back door of the shop. However, it was originally an accident. When Eggers obtained the funding and the first set premises, he was told by the planners that the area was meant to be for retail.  The inside of the building he’d found reminded him of a ship so he decided to front the writing school with a pirate supply store.

What the Ministry does

The aim is to improve literacy skills in children who lack confidence, particularly in the writing skills. We all have a story we can tell and the ability to write it. Different children will need different sorts of and amounts of scaffolding. The Ministry has some unique features in relation to this.


  • Mentors are carefully trained.
  • Often there are just two or three children to one mentor.
  • Mentors are carefully briefed before each session and debriefed afterwards. This can add up to an hour to each session – sometimes taking up on third of the total time.  This works very well and is worth the effort.
Most of the people who work for the shop and the Ministry are volunteers and are not paid. There are a few staff members, paid or by various grants. Writers and artists tend to offer their services for free. Creative practitioners have to be clear about why they do this but it is in the end always a good line on the CV.


I’ve not volunteered for a while and must get round to doing it again. I’m always glad to support. By the way, the milk tooth chocolate was delicious.