Out January 2017
I’m well aware that many teenagers want a read that’s super-short but has real meat.
So here we have it. Short, fast-paced, and toothily gripping – a vampire story.
The Craving is based on a much bigger novel idea I had years ago. One that never quite got written. This is a pared down version. What
the story has lost in complexity and subtlety is not that important. At six thousand words it’s brief, but I’m pleased with the result.
His visit was awarded to the school after Oliver Gajdowski, now in Year 9, won a national competition with a soap opera sketch involving Shakespeare, Marlowe and a copyright theft.
Windermere student, Demi Eamer, now in Year 10, was awarded second prize in the same prestigious competition.
Cliff spoke to pupils on his background as a writer and a range of his books, including his first novel ‘Doomspell.’ He also explained how to write a story in five easy steps and how to create characters.
Author Cliff McNish means very different things to different people. For Angel-fan Alex from teenage book group Millennium RIOT Readers Cliff is his favourite author of fantasy fiction. For JDBookGroup, he's a dog called Ralph. Both sides of the author are covered in this interview!
The first part of this interview is by some brand new fans of Cliff's, JDBookGroup:
Laycie: What inspired you to be a writer?
The answer to that is my daughter Rachel when she was nine she lived with her mum and we'd been separated since she was two. I used to see her at weekends because her mum and I were separated but it wasn't quite enough as she got older. I'd always told her stories and I thought I'd write her a little one. I started writing it and it just got bigger.
Do you imagine dogs really have complex feelings like your characters in Going Home?
Not really! At one point the dogs in Going Home talk about insurance, but it's funny how dogs in books can get away with things like this and it's believable. It's the same in Disney films, one minute the dogs will be really serious like adults then they are mucking around like little kids, with animals you can get away with them being both at the same time!
Nabila: Which of the dogs would you take home if you had the chance out of Ralph, Bessie, Thor, Mitch or Fred?
It would have to be either Bessie or Ralph, Mitch is a bit too lively. Probably Ralph because he's very calm.
Denzel: have you met dogs like the one you have written about in Going Home?
I've only started working with Dogs Trust recently but my wife and I fostered have fostered many dogs from Battersea Dogs and Cats home. So I've met dogs that don't like being touched like Bessie, dogs that are afraid of people often because they'd been abused so you've got to gradually get them used to the idea of being touched. I've met a lot of dogs that chase cats like Mitch. I've met a lot of old, ugly dogs that have health issues. It's very hard to rehome dogs like that. So they often get left behind. That's sad.
Rianna: Do you have a dog now or did you have one when you were growing up?
I didn't have a dog when I was growing up. My mum didn't like dogs then my parents split up when I was 10, then my dad got a dog, so I had dogs when I was teenager. Then my wife started to volunteer at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and since then we've looked after a number of dogs.
Aminata: How sorry do you feel for dogs who don't have a home?
I feel really sorry for them it's horrible to be an unwanted dog, they don't know why they are left.
Nashita: Who was your favourite author as a child?
CS Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles which were amazing – and Enid Blyton.
Princess: How would you feel if you had a dog like Bessie in Going Home that you didn't like being stroked?
It would be really hard to have a dog you couldn't' touch. I would accept it if I chose to take a dog like that.
And now some questions for teen fan Alex from Millennium RIOT readers:
Alex: Do you have a preferred writing style?
No. The voice tends to choose itself. I don't consciously experiment with style, but I guess the multiple first-person perspective I use in the Silver Sequence is fairly unusual for younger fiction and I'm sometimes described as a "bizarre" stylist where my pure fantasies are concerned, but that's mainly because my creations are fairly non-standard fare and because I do like to write first-person perspective from the villains' viewpoint. That's always a joy. The overall truth is that I just find a voice that works for each kind of story I'm writing and once I'm comfortable just go with it. If people read Going Home and can't recognise that person as the one who wrote Silver World – well, that's terrific. Form/content over style wins.
How important are your characters to you as you are writing?
Very. In some novels like Breathe – which almost never leaves a house – and Going Home – which never leaves the dogs' home – you'd better get your characters right because you have no interesting locations to distract the reader from underdeveloped protagonists.
Are there any characters in your books which you particularly relate to?
The torn Nyktomorph in Savannah Grey. Mestraal and Hestron in Angel. Walter in The Silver Sequence. I can't even begin to tell you why. They just felt the most human – though only one of those is actually human at all. In lots of ways I like to do that – explore what it means to be human. And monsters, or archetypal angels, are perfect mirrors for that.
What sparked the initial idea for Angel?
A saw a little girl lying in bed, with light gradually increasing on her sleeping face. When she wakes she sees a beautiful angel. But here's the part that made me write it – the angel starts crying in front of her. An adult weeping at the bed of a child. I didn't know why. I sort of wanted to find out.
Your YA novels are always so different from each other, with Angel being more of a "chick lit", Breathe being such a chilling ghost story and The Hunting Ground more of a horror. Do you
think it's important to keep upping your game and differentiating between styles of writing and genres?
Angel as chick lit? Really?! To me it's more a kind of moral fable. I don't consciously do "different" books. I just wait for a story idea to grab me from amongst the many that flit in and out of my head. At the moment those are mostly humorous, warm storylines. They used to be darker. I honestly can't chart why, but I like both strands. I just wait for a gut emotional reaction – a wrench that says, "Yes, this is worth writing."
Where do you draw your ideas from? Personal experiences, everyday experiences or a mix or things?
Hardly anything from personal experience until my latest novel Going Home, which is definitely informed by my days fostering dogs. I genuinely have no idea where most of my ideas come from.
When beginning a new novel do you plan the characters first and then fit the story around them or do you plan the whole thing out methodically?
I tend to have the idea first – and instantly embedded in that are usually one or two main characters who will carry it. I then play with the idea – see if it has 'legs' as they say. If I'm still excited, I start to develop the characters to carry the idea, and sketch an outline plot. If that still looks good, I'll sketch certain scenes in more detail, and start thinking about character motivations – and so on, ad infinitum. The entire cast/plot develops in a higgledy-piggledy, meandering, blind-alley-galore riot of confusion and feedback loops from that point. There's nothing linear or consistent about it. I just use what feels right and works – and discard all the rest.
Click below to follow the link...
Every dog abandoned at Happy Paws Rescue Centre dreams of being rehomed with a loving family, but for Ralph, Fred, Mitch and Bessie the dream seems impossible. They've been at the centre for so long they're considered the No-Hopers - the dogs that nobody wants!
Ralph is determined to make one last attempt to find them all new owners, but time is running out when Happy Paws reviews its policy of never putting an unwanted pet down.
Can they prove that they're worth a second chance or has all hope gone?
Always a good place to start. And guess what? I won the 2013 Calderdale Award for THE HUNTING GROUND. That’s 6 awards for my ghost stories now, and twice I’ve won this particular and fantastic award. Over ten schools were involved in the ceremony in Halifax in the North West of England on 3rd July. Maybe I should write some more ghost stories, d’you think?
The other excellent short-listed authors were Sally Nichols for ALL FALL DOWN, Chris Westwood for MINISTRY OF PANDEMONIUM, William Osborne for HITLER’S ANGEL and the wonderfully titled THE NIGHT SKY IN MY HEAD by Sarah Hammond. It was such a pleasure to meet them all, and all the teachers, librarians and students who make this event so fantastic.
SHOOT-EM UP AWARD!
I've been invited to a literary shoot-out in March 2014. The 10 novels that won the last decade-worth of Salford Book Awards duel it out. The mayhem is probably in a quiet library with biscuits and milky tea, but I'm gonna bring a MASSIVE MASSIVE gun!
I like getting Fan Mail. Here’s one I especially liked recently. Couldn't resist (with Jay's permission) sharing with you his unedited email to me via my website.
Dear Mr. McNish
My name is Jay, and I'm 13 years old. I've always loved books, and yours I just happened to find at our town's public library. Just lucky the whole [Silver] sequence was in one spot too. I can't explain how AMAZING they are. I don't know why, but I read them every night. I will have to return them soon, but I already plan on buying them for my personal keeping.
I know, I sound like any other kid fan you have, obsessed with your books. I guess I kind of am. I can't say they changed my life in any way, but they've become a well-needed life line for me. Barely-a-teen, these books are just the perfect excuse to forget about my world and my non-existent problems, and just feel like I'm a part of something bigger. I know that none of this is true in any sense, but the concept-of Milo, Helen, Tom, Jenny, Walter, the Roar, the Protector-is so beautiful. Yes, some parts are a bit off, like Jenny the five-year-old weapon. Yet for some reason, it is so easy for me to believe that parts of your story do live around us, and I guess that's given me some hope to know this magical story may contain reality. I think it's the idea of beauty that leaves me enamoured with your books. In the silver sequence, all beauty is-is compassion, caring. Kindness, and sacrifice. Giving into pain, and suffering, accepting losses for yourself, but helping others. It made me think about humanity in a different sense. Beauty is something we all have, and I don't think I would of ever realized that without your books.
Now isn't that nice? It'’s stuff like that which makes the effort of writing worthwhile.
Ciao for now.
Just been told by the current Vice-President of CILIP - Barbara Band - that my 2006 novel BREATHE has been voted by the librarians on their SLN (online Schools Library Network) as one of their Top 100 books of ALL TIME.
I’m really pleased to be able to tell you that THE HUNTING GROUND has won the Hillingdon Book of the Year 2013. A whole host of schools from the area took part, and it was an award with a difference because the schools had to ‘perform’ their favourite novel live onstage.
According to the Uxbridge Gazzette The Hunting Ground was a runaway winner, and the performances were amazing, and included all sorts of dripping spiders and ghostly cobwebs. I was so disappointed to miss out on attending this award. I only heard about it after I had another school firmly booked (It was held on World School Book Day, unfortunately!) and I couldn’t change that booking. How annoying! But lovely to win! And I’d like to extend an enormous word of thanks to the students and teachers who were involved in organizing this .. and voting for me! I’m very proud to win, too, because the competition was so stiff. It included my friend Sarwat Chadda’s book Ash Mistry and The Savage Fortress (which came second) and Goblins by Philip Reeve. The other runners-up were Call Me Drog by Sue Cowing, Twelve Minutes To Midnight by Christopher Edge, and The Prince Who Walked With Lions by Elizabeth Laird.
The Hunting Ground is also on the shortlist for the wonderful Calderdale Award 2013. I’ve no idea of the other shortlisted titles yet, but I know the award will be held on July 3rd 2013, and this time – ha! – I’ll definitely be attending. It’s particularly nice to be nominated for this one because I won the same award for my other ghost novel BREATHE in 2006/7. The readers in this part of the world obviously have a touch of the dead in their veins ...
OK, it’s been several months since I offered an update. Apologies. A lot on the non-writerly front has been going on, as they say. But I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve written another novel recently. I put aside my big dark fantasy epic, Dragonbone Gate, for another day and had a big change of heart about what I wanted to write about next. I started penning a new ghost story – then stopped. I wasn’t enjoying it. It took a while to realise that I wanted to be in a lighter head-space than before. I wanted jokes and maybe a little sentimentality as well.
My wife had always said to me, ‘Why don't you write a nice story about some dogs stuck in a rescue centre.’
I always brushed it aside as the kind of story someone else might write, but when she died I changed my mind. Not immediately. But from nowhere THE NO-HOPERS almost wrote itself. It’s been the most enjoyable experience I’ve had for years. Four dogs, all with classic problems, spend every moment of their day in a kennel. Nobody wants them. Will they ever get out? And for those of you who think, ‘Where’s the McNish darkness gone?’ there's a thread of it in there. A Staffordshire bull terrier with a dark fighting past. But the rest of the story is unashamedly more heartfelt and humorous, and aimed at my original age-group of 8-12 rather than teens, too.
I’d like to think this one can be illustrated, and I’ve met Trish Phillips, a wonderful illustrator who’s sketched this little pic of one of the main characters. Fred the bulldog. A sad old fella who just turns away when anyone comes to visit the dog’s home. He’s lost all hope ...he’s a grouchy, sarcastic mutt as well. Hates puppies.
I’m sending the first draft of THE NO-HOPERS to my publisher, Orion, and they’re looking to read it over Xmas 2012 period. I hope they like it, because the next book I want to write is in a similar vein.
Apart from that I’ve been generally doing less than I should have done.
Ciao for now and be good to each other.
Whoa! BREATHE has managed to win the American Virginia Readers’ Choice Award (chosen by the kids themselves). And I even got a gift – a pewter cup!
First real bit of hardware I’ve won for a novel – normally you just a framed certificate or a ham sandwich or something, though I did win a pen once. I lost it, though. But it ran out of ink almost straightaway, so I kind of half-deliberately lost it.
I’m using the pewter cup to store my pens. They keep falling out of it. I keep putting them back in. It’s an ongoing thing.
Lovely to win this award so late actually, as BREATHE originally came out in 2008 in the USA. You do wonder what’s happening to your novels once they’ve been out a while (sometimes, like novelists themselves, they just expire, the last page waving goodbye to the last person who reads it, the hand gradually flapping slower and slower until with a wistful last flap of the fingers it it is gone), but I’m proud of BREATHE and it’s nice to see it’s still being read.
Who are my readers? Originally they were 100% British. Now, if my website statistics are to be believed, they are 98% North American.
Thanks to all my American readers for writing to me. It means a lot to me, really it does.
I’m doing the Northern Children Book Festival (U.K.) again in November, which is great. I always like it. Talking to the kids and also a chance to visit my northern relatives.
My mum and dad absconded from there in the 1960s, which was probably right because it's freezing up there. The average temperature in Sunderland, the city where I was born, is minus 27 degrees in midwinter.
I’m just completing the second draft of my new teen fantasy novel, originally called ‘Aramanth’ but now called THE DRAGONBONE GATE. Why? Because there is a Dragonbone Gate in it.
Yes, it’s that profoundly thought through.
There’s a bit of a delay getting this one to print but the current timetable is January 2013. I’ll keep you updated on that and any visuals/previews.
AND AFTER THAT ... probably another ghost story. I like the idea of a young child that dies accidentally while in the middle of playing a game, a game whose rules it has simply made up.
But the rules are fairly elaborate. And now it’s dead, the child just wants to carry on playing. Trouble is, who’s there to play with?
So it’ll have to get the living children out there to help it, won’t it? I love the idea of being forced to enter a game whose rules you do not understand but which have deadly consequences if you mess up. It's a bit of a feature of my novels, this one, thinking about it i.e. Games you are inadvertently drawn inside. Oh dear. Repeating myself again ... even so.
And I enjoy the idea of a game you are supposed to win but actually what you want to do, what you have to do to survive, is to LOSE. Not sure how this idea will pan out... it’s getting mixed up with other ideas.
Hopefully something solid will emerge from the crush.
What am I reading right now?
Good: Melvin Burgess’s latest teen novel KILL ALL ENEMIES is wonderfully engrossing.
Bad: Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE. A hugely praised adult vampire book 1000 pages long, but at the end of the week it takes to read it you realise it is vacuous. So annoying. The characters become sentimental/silly and events ludicrous. Don’t read it. Read the Burgess instead.
Yes. My publisher in the U.K., Orion, are bringing out the DOOMSPELL fantasy series, my first books, in great new covers next year. I’ll let you in on what they look like once the design is finalised and I’m allowed ...
Anything else? Nope. Really? No, can’t think of anything. If I do I’ll slip it in later ... Ciao ..... and be good to each other.
I’ll be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Thursday 18th August at 3.30 pm, talking ghost stories and mainly about my latest novel THE HUNTING GROUND, which – er – is a ghost story.
Venue is the RBS Corner Theatre. I’ll get you a couple more details once the festival guide is out ... I’ve got a feeling I’m gonna flash up some seriously freakily scary pictures at this event. Of ghosts, I mean. Or supposed ghosts. I don’t believe in them really, but still ... these pics ... well, they scared me ...
TOP TEN SCARY BOOKS etc ...
The Guardian very kindly asked me to put together a list of my top ten most frightening books suitable for a teen audience. It got me thinking and I put together this little list.
Made me reflect in a more organised way than I’d normally bother about horror stories too – and what a surprise – quel horreur! – they’re all about love!
Just about everything in life (and almost literally everything in fiction) is all about love – the having of it, the need for it, the absence of it, and our desperate attempts to claw it back or hold on to it or acquire it in all its forms.
When people are in love we know they’re capable of doing anything while in its grasp. It’s the only reason we ever accept the nonsense most fiction gives us – by which I mean the endless love stream we all tap into when we read, the DREAM COME TRUE, with any annoying intervening practical reasons why it wouldn’t be like that really safely put aside as long as our writer gives us even a fraction of a decent reason to believe. Every fiction reader is a secret romantic. Why are they/you/me reading this stuff otherwise? ... Read it here
THE HUNTING GROUND
My new YA ghost novel THE HUNTING GROUND is now out in the UK. I hope my U.S. publisher, Carolrhoda, will also publish it in due course – but it might be a while yet. There’ve been a lot of nice reviews of it in various places. Here’s a few for you if you want to get their tenor ...
From The Bookbag
From Wondrous Reads (including a brief interview with me)
From Excellent Reads
... is now out in paperback in the UK – and in hardcover in the USA. I keep getting people telling me that they like it but not the ending. Should have given a softer, more gradually-released conclusion to the reader, methinks.
You flout convention in an attempt to do what feels artistically and aesthetically right and you ... well, misjudge I guess. Sorry to those disappointed, but the answers to all the questions I’m being asked by you guys are actually all in that last chapter if you just read it carefully enough.
Anyway, I’m not gonna apologise anymore. I did write the ending I wanted. It’s a book I’m proud of.
I’m just completing the first draft of my new novel – ARAMANTH.
Anybody who can come up with a better title (it’s a planet, nice place) can have a couple of free signed copies when it comes out (plus fame and fortune of appearing on a cover of course, what are you waiting for?).
I’ve really enjoyed writing it. It’s full of wild creatures and teenagers made of stern stuff with a world to save. A classic heroic fantasy swashbuckling adventure if ever there was one. Nice change from the ice-cold ghost story THE HUNTING GROUND.
It’s odd how writing creepy stuff affects your mood, actually – all that immersion in the dark side. You don’t think it does – the relationship with your day-to-day personality is nowhere near as simple as dark fiction content = a veiled, damp mood – but it does have some impact, and you only know it when you’re back in the sunshine – I definitely felt good releasing the fetters a bit in this one, letting loose on the invention, building a world.
I’ll get it to my publisher in mid June and we’ll see what they make of it... ARAMANTH is deeply influenced, actually, by a fantasy/SF writer I’ve become (healthily, I think) obsessed with – Justina Robson.
Try KEEPING IT REAL, the first of her Quantum Gravity series. Whether you’re an adult or teen, it’s so beautifully done ... and there are 4 more glorious books in the series, too. It’s funny, really – when you come across a talent like hers you realise that almost anything is possible in fiction.
She creates ideas/characters that no one else possibly could, or even if they did they would not write them that way, so uniquely. I’m hopelessly smitten by her. Isn’t that the mark of a great writer? – you just know no one else could have written it, the vision is so distinctive... and you fall in love ...
NEXT NEXT NOVEL ...
Yeah, thinking about that, too. Might be another ghost story. I like them. I’ve been worrying the edge of a new idea for a while now, but mysteriously it won’t come right. If I can get it to do so (by which I only mean it feels like it has legs to me, of course), I might suggest to Orion that we go with this one next.
We’ll see ... Ciao ..... and be good to each other.
I’m amazed to tell you SAVANNAH GREY didn’t win the North East Teenage Award – though I did meet some great and slightly loopy fans (my favourite types) at the ceremony.
The award was won by the fine novel WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David.
Nothing Planned right now. I never seem to have any planned or, more often, I forget to tell you about them. I know I’m going to the Edinborough Festival this year – late summer – but don’t have a date yet.
I’ll try to remember to tell you ... just did two days with Surrey Libraries on ghost stories that were great and forgot to tell you about that. You could have come along! I’m just rubbish ... will try to do better, promise ...
... comes out in the U.S. in April this year, but it has had some attention already. Go to the Lerner website (lernerbooks.com) for critical responses as they come up if you want those, but the ‘good reads’ website, which a helluva lotta people seem to be recording their wise and crazy thoughts on these days, gives a pretty honest reflection across the board of what people are thinking about it, bad and good. Here it is ... I still groove that U.S. cover.
THE HUNTING GROUND
My new YA ghost novel THE HUNTING GROUND (‘NOT FOR YOUNGER READERS’, it says so right on the cover), is due out in MAY 2011 in the U.K.
It’s a cold slice of unadulterated terror this one, any rays of sunshine wintry feeble ones scattered far and wide by the attenuated bodies of the main protagonists, but that’s what a ghosts story’s supposed to be like isn’t it, and there are quite enough not-very-scary-scooby-doo-type ghosts in young fiction for a lifetime’s dull reading.
Amazingly, in 2006, when I wrote BREATHE, there were hardly any ghost novels being written of any substance or quality. Now suddenly ghost stories are appearing everywhere ... I think I must have started this great trend. I can’t think of any other explanation for it ...
I’m deep into the first draft of my new large-scale fantasy adventure ARAMANTH (bad title I know, I’ll have to come up with something more ringing).
I’m not sure if it’s any good yet, but there’s no shortage of action, that’s for sure. I’ve even included dragons. They’re so ubiquitous in children’s (and adults, actually) fantasy that I decided ages ago never to use them, but it’s funny – as soon as I decided to make them hard-nosed and uncompromising as hell they kinda came to life.
The whole Medusa legend has always obsessed me, and that has come in here too. Let’s reincarnate the gorgon, that’s what I say – and make her mobile. Create hundreds of them, get them flying. That should be fun.
Ciao ..... and be good to each other.
I’m very pleased to tell you that SAVANNAH GREY has been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. This is generally regarded as the most prestigious in children’s and YA fiction, so it is a privilege to be named to the list. It’s especially pleasing to me given that novel’s tricky and almost still birth. The shortlist is announced early next year. I’ll let you know how it does.
THE HUNTING GROUND
My new teen ghost novel, THE HUNTING GROUND, is due out in MAY 2011 in the U.K. The cover’s now come through and check it out ... Do you like it?
It’s a fairly generic cover for a ghost story, admittedly. Initially I wanted something more unique, but I’ve warmed to it. At least this way everyone knows they’re getting a haunted house story, and just in case the pic leaves you in any doubt those words ‘Haunted by ...’ should be a dead giveaway, as it were.
Continuing with the theme of covers, the U.S. edition of SAVANNAH GREY is out in April 2011, furnished with a VERY different cover from the U.K. edition. Here they are, side by side.
I must admit that while I like my U.K. cover a lot, I’m very partial to the U.S. edition.
Originally it was even more graphic, with needle-like spikes emerging in all their glory from Savannah’s milky throat. That’s been toned down for the final version, which I guess makes commercial sense, especially as when I asked on Facebook what people thought most people definitely found the U.S edition too strong.
Actually, I’m interested in your views about your very favourite cover. What is it? Let me know. I think on the next update I’ll give you a few of mine ...
My publisher, Orion, and I have now agreed on my next novel. It will be a fairly large-scale fantasy adventure set almost entirely on a world called ARAMANTH.
It’s a weird and wacky place, full of all sorts of lush and unusual creatures, as well as a few elves. I’m hoping to have the first draft done by the end of spring 2011. I’ll keep you posted – or if I don;t keep you posted I’m struggling with it.
Ciao ..... and be good to each other, you guys.
I'm doing a themed event on ANGELS vs DEMONS this Sunday 31st October (yes, Halloween) at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road in London at 2.00pm. Come along if you can. I'll be debating with other writers like L.A. Weatherley, William Hussey and Sam Enthoven. Demon flesh will fly. Angels, will, of course, triumph. Should be fun ... it's free entry. A chance to meet me and another author or two ...
I've finished my second ghost novel. It's aimed at the same age-group as BREATHE and again it is set in a house, but a very different story, with a truly nasty villain. There was some discussion over the title (see last entry) but in the end my editor, Amber Caraveo, and I agreed on THE HUNTING GROUND. We're just deciding on the cover now. I'll let you have it when it's ready. It's due out in MAY 2011, about a month after SAVANNAH GREY comes out in paperback.
Plenty of people find this horror story weird (why don't people like monsters as much as me? As soon as you go from human to creature I see the portcullis of disinterest descending over their eyes). Anyway, I'm deeply pleased and flattered that the (brilliant) organisers of the North East Teenage Book Award have dropped me into their shortlist of 2010 book of the year, and I'll be attending the ceremony for that in January. The last one was great, although amazingly out of charity they let someone else win.
I'm trying to agree a new book with my publisher. It's not so easy as I tend to come out with ideas that are too 'dark, weird, violent and cruel' (I wish my wife would just leave me alone for once), but I'm trying to cheer up. Actually, I've got a story idea for a large scale fantasy adventure set on another world. Think AVATAR but more dark, cruel, violent and ... ha, I jest. Think AVATAR but better. Even though I'm known as a fantasy-horror writer, I haven't actually set the action for a book on a world outside the Earth since THE WIZARD'S PROMISE, the last of the Doomspell trilogy. Not sure why. About time I did again ...
That's it for the moment.
Ciao ..... and be good to each other, you guys.
Hi guys, Blimey, it’s been months since I did an update. What have I been up to?
First, my latest novel, Savannah Grey has been out since February, and gathered some nice reviews. Check out the BOOKS section for those. I was deeply flattered when Melvin Burgess, the YA fiction writer I admire so much, wrote to me saying that he liked it.
The overall view of people seems to be: well-written, gripping, and a little ... strange. Sort of a shorthand description of my career really, and I’m not complaining.
For my U.S. readers, you can obviously order Savannah Grey now from the U.K. but I understand my excellent States-side publishers, Carolrhoda, have now bought it, so you’ll be getting a fresh-minted edition coming out in your neighbourhood around February 2011.
I’ve also been sent a first draft of their likely cover, which I’d like to share with you because it’s so startlingly good (I think). Let me know if you like it ...
I’m pleased to tell you that SAVANNAH GREY was shortlisted for the Calderdale Award. It’s wonderful, actually, to be recognised by this group of schools and libraries twice.
BREATHE, my ghost story, won their award a few years ago, so I like these guys a lot. Great taste they have. Impeccable judgement. The winner of the award was Alex Scarrow (so maybe not entirely impeccable – ha!), but at the ceremony I also had a chance to meet the extremely nice Michelle Stevens and Terence Blacker, as well as reacquaint myself with Tim Bowler, an excellent novelist who also just happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
First, a new YA ghost novel I’ve really enjoyed writing, provisionally called THE LOVELY QUIET AND DARK. I’ve just completed the second draft. Hopefully it’ll be out in the late spring of 2011. Here’s a sneak glimpse ...
Dead things can sound alive when they choose to. Dead things can move around.
At first nothing woke fourteen-year-old Elliott. Tucked up warmly in bed, he failed to notice the eerie whispered rhymes. Or the sighs. Or the footsteps. Those footsteps came lightly and swiftly towards him – someone or something running incredibly fast across the floors of the old house. A presence long dead was on its return to the world of the living.
The visitor wrapped itself in its own hush. It pressed against cold walls, deeply excited. It swept its death inside shadows. It rarely came in a straight line. It came in impossible ways: soaring above lampshades, drifting between stuffed chairs. Passing over lush burgundy carpets, it never once needed to touch them. Floors are not only to be walked upon, one foot in front of another.
Gliding past portraits in the corridors, the visitor tenderly stroked them. It made time for that, kissing one or two of the less grimy paintings. Its lips, opening and closing upon their wooden frames, were never quite still. The rest of the time its mouth quivered with the murmur of sinister rhymes.
To start with the visitor kept well away from the new occupants of Glebe House. Only when it was certain everyone was asleep did it travel from the East Wing to the first floor of the main house.Elliott’s dad, Stephen, lay in his own room. He was turned away from the door, one of his bare arms inside the top blanket, the other flung across his pillow like an afterthought. The visitor knelt beside his face. For a while it simply stayed that way, holding its breath, gazing at his strong, muscular body.
Then it floated up to the third floor.
Elliott’s twelve-year-old brother, Ben, had his bedroom there. The visitor lurked just inside Ben’s door, observing his chest rise and fall. It watched until the moon rose like a pale creamy promise in the window. Then it was drawn towards the partially-open bedroom opposite.
Elliott was inside, asleep on his back, his mouth open.
The visitor wafted smoothly up to his face. Its movements lightly stirred the air, sending up small puffs of dust. In gentle waves the dust settled on Elliott’s black eyelashes, dotting the upturned tips grey. The visitor’s mouth was an even deeper grey. Grey face, grey hair. Lips pursed in the moonlight. Lips that never stopped murmuring. Tiny whispers. A rhyme that sparked the air, over and over.
‘Where’s the Ogre?
Where’s he been?
Where’s he hiding, in your dreams ...’
I also want to canvass your views about the title.
So far the reaction from people to THE LOVELY QUIET AND DARK is mixed. Adults tend to (quite) like it, girls are OK with it, and boys generally are indifferent. Here’s some possible alternatives I’ve put together.
If you wanna have some say in what it might be called write back to me to give me your choice.
Here they are:
TAKE MY HAND
THE DARK PASSAGE
EYES WIDE OPEN
WEAPONS FOR SMALL HANDS
THE HUNTING GROUND
THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED
GAMES FOR THE DEAD
FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
A WEAPON OF CHOICE
A FAINT FLOWING OF HAIR
And my own current favourite…. DO YOU WANT TO PLAY?
I’ve written an adult horror script, and I need to decide what to do with it (apart from getting adult horror companies interested, of course).
I think it would convert quite nicely with some tweaking into a YA graphic novel. Or an adult graphic novel. Or even a novel novel... I’m thinking about it.
My whole interest in graphic novels (comics) has been rekindled, actually, by meeting one of the great adult comic story writers, Mike Carey. He’s written some tremendous stuff in the CONSTANTINE series, and also some great fiction about a boy who is not Harry Potter, but appears to be suspiciously like a real version of the fictional character.
If you want to know more details about this intriguing series let me know ... I’ll be meeting him again shortly, and I’m really looking forward to it. Apart from that, I’ve got to decide what my next novel will be, and I’m debating with myself about that.
I have, however, got several developed ideas – it’s just a question of which to use. I’ll think about them while I’m on holiday in Ireland ... Can’t think of anything else right now.
Hope you like SAVANNAH.
Take care and be good to each other ... Ciao.
Well, what’s been going on? First, NEW SERVICE I’M OFFERING – Manuscript reading. I’ve decided (maybe arrogantly) that I can probably offer as much insight as most into whether a novel for young people works or not. So – for adult writers only mind – I’m offering to read manuscripts (for a fee, of course).
Go to my new page MANUSCRIPT READING for details. Younger writers – as impressed as I am with so much of your work, I’m afraid this service is only available to adult authors.
I guess the big news is that my love/horror teen novel SAVANNAH GREY is finally out. It’s in all good bookshops, as they say, priced £8.99.
My publisher, Orion, have really done me proud with the cover of this one. It’s in delicious autumnal greens and ochres. A few really nice reviews are already out or forthcoming, amongst which this from the online website ‘bookbag.co.uk ---- have a gander.
For my U.S. readers, I understand that my publishers, Lerner, are in negotiation for an edition of SAV GREY, but it may be some time before that makes an appearance on your happy shores, so you’ll have to invest in a U.K. edition if you’re desperate for it – which I hope you are. I’ll let you know any other comments about Savannah Grey that come along – well, the nice ones of course.
So many ideas, including some weird and bizarre adult horror notions I keep playing about with, plus a nutty script for a monster-type B- movie thing involving 4 young adults who end up digging up a monster ... only to find that this is just the beginning. It’s the baby they’ve exhumed. Daddy’s still got to be assembled, and guess whose unwilling four sets of hands are going to have to do the erecting?
But all that’s just by the way, mooching and playing with ideas. Apropos of nothing, I was reading science fiction author Orson Scott Card’s views on writing again recently and he said something that stuck in my head – that the best stories come about when 2 unrelated ideas (and separately conceived ideas that that) suddenly come together to form something else, stronger and distinct.
I think he’s right. Synergy and all that. The dialectic.
I’ve completed the first draft of my new novel. It’s a ghost story called THE SECRET PLACE. It probably won’t end up being called that, as I think I’ve told you before. What do you think of the title THE EAST WING. ? Maybe not. Sounds like a spin-off series of TV’s THE WEST WING.
Several insightful readers have already commented on the novel for me and made me realise that, as usual, it needs serious rewriting. You always hope this writing lark is gonna get easier, but somehow it seems to get more complex and involuted and wrapped up with your own inadequacies and somehow fraught instead of being what it should be – joy. Part of the reason, as Melvin Burgess says, is that as you become more skilled (hopefully) your options in terms of viewpoint become correspondingly wider, and choices therefore harder. The key is to nudge back towards the joy one way or another, I suppose, and stop moaning and feeling sorry for yourself.
Dunno really. I can’t get a grasp of why people are so fixed on this TWITTER stuff, though I’m on it. Am I missing something? Who cares if Stephen Fry has twenty billion followers? Everyone famous for 140 characters ... oh god, I’m just a grumpy old man, aren’t I?
Have been finishing the amazing Justina Robson’s sci-fi/fantasy series QUANTUM GRAVITY. She’s so great. So brilliant. I think I’m in love with her mind. Also been reading yet more books by military sf writer Dan Abnett – his Gaunt’s ghosts books. Also superb. Can’t think of anything else to tell you right now.
Hope you like SAVANNAH ... Take care and be good to each other ...
Thought I’d give you a few minor bits and pieces of news.
First, if you don’t already know, my latest YA novel, a combination love/horror story that doesn’t have a single vampire in it, is out on Feb 4th 2010. But ONLY in the U.K. Due to the protracted nature of getting this novel finished (disagreements, too much horror, too much weirdness, the usual battles I have, I never seem to learn) it wasn’t presented during its development to my excellent U.S. publisher, Carolrhoda.
I’m well aware that I have a lot of American fans these days, and it’s truly great to hear from you all and get feedback, which I love, but at the moment I guess you’ll just have to order SAVANNAH from the U.K. As soon as I know about a U.S. publication date, I’ll tell you. Oh, and if you want a sneak preview ... it’s below this update.
For a start I’ve created a TWITTER profile. I’ve already included 8 tweets, including two of my all-time favourite short-short stories, which is a helluva lot of updates for me, as those who follow this blog will know.
What else? Oh yeah, I’m well underway with a new ghost novel. It isn’t a sequel to BREATHE, but it is set again in a house and aimed at the same age-group. ie 10 year-olds – grannies ... At the moment it’s provisionally titled ‘THE SECRET PLACE’. That might/probably will/may change. It’s fun writing it. I got so bogged down for a long time in rewrites for SAVANNAH that I almost forgot why I gave up a real job to write in the first place – because it’s fun, honey!
Anything else? Yeah. One of my all-time heroes, pop-group Genesis seventies lead singer and songwriter extraordinaire Peter Gabriel, mentioned on his blog recently that he liked my novel SILVER CITY. It’s always nice to hear about things like this from people whose feet you would readily kiss.
Oh, and I’ve been penning some weird adult horror stuff recently. Not sure if it’ll ever see the light of publicity day, but there are shackles and restrictions in YA fiction you don’t always want to be hidebound by, and it was nice to just let loose. I haven’t decided what to do with the output yet. Bury it – or inflict it on people. If the latter, I reckon I’d have to have a nom de plume. Any good names come to mind, let me know ...
What else? Oh yes, short stories. I’ve been reading Melvin Burgess’s on TWITTER – they’re just little things, that’s all you can do in that medium, but I quite like the idea of doing one or two. I may. After I wrote ANGEL, a spin-off couple of weird pages splurged out of me as a kind of wringing out exercise. We’ll see, I might just go all quiet on this again.
I’m reading a lot at the moment. You older readers out there try to get hold of some of the dark fantasy short stories of Steve Rasnic Tem. He’s amazing, but hardly known outside specialist horror press publications, which is a crying shame, as he’s so original and not blood and guts horror at all. Just ... superior. Also reading the (also adult) ‘Quantum Gravity’ SF series by Justina Robson. Humans, elves, demons and fairies all co-existing in one tricky universe. She’s such a smart, engaging, funny writer. Fills me with envy, really. Actually, almost every other decent writer does, but I especially hate/love ones as great as her.
Finally, my U.K. publisher, Orion, are putting together a flyer at the moment linked to SAVANNAH GREY. I might end up sending out a general broadcast with it to everyone who has ever sent me an email. I might not, though. I’m always a bit reluctant and backward on the self-advertising front. Typically English really. Although I love talking about fiction and what makes it tick, so that’s odd ... on the other hand, I get tongue-tied on that front too... really, I’m happiest talking about monsters, which is probably where all the problems with SAVANNAH GREY came from ... but let’s not go back there.
Oh God, this is turning out to be the most unstructured, rubbish bloggy update I‘ve done ever probably. Time to get away from my desk and go for a walk ... except it’s winter here nearly now, so it’s raining, so I can’t, and anyway I’ve pulled my back again, so I can’t for that reason either, so I’m going to just have to – I don’t know – READ A BOOK I SUPPOSE!
Ciao for now. Be good to each other.
I know it’s been a long time since a new novel appeared. The truth is that finishing my horror novel SAVANNAH GREY has been a tricky old business, but finally I have a date of publication – not April 2010, as I previoulsy thought, but actually FEBRUARY 2010.
So get your orders in. Sorry for the delay, but hopefully you’ll feel it’s worth it. It’s very different from anything I’ve done before, a true horror story, with three genuine monsters in it. For anyone who wants a taster of what it’s like, here’s the PROLOGUE …actually there are slight changes to this in the final draft, but I bet no one notices ...
It was long past midnight when the Horror appeared at the end of Westmoreland Road. No one in the run-down housing estate saw it. No one heard it as it burst through the washing lines of the poky little gardens.
Reaching number thirty-three, Savannah Grey’s house, the Horror dropped its star-shaped head on one side, knotted its murderous claws behind its back and tried to work out the most entertaining way to reach her bedroom. There were many ways available, but the Horror was young and like all young things it liked to use its teeth.
Biting a path up the brickwork, it anchored its incisors into Savannah’s window ledge. Then, thrilled with excitement, it raised its single cobalt-blue eye to the night winds and howled.
The Horror wasn’t meant to do that. It wasn’t supposed to draw attention to itself. But it had been let loose for the first time in its life, and was dying to do everything at once.
A city! Such glorious lights! Never having been unchained for this long before, the Horror’s restless claws had been on the move all evening, playing freely and greedily with everything it touched. And on the way to Savannah’s, it had chanced upon something that truly made it squeal with delight.
An adolescent girl, dancing in her living room.
Blonde-haired, and dressed in a stretched yellow tutu, she was strenuously performing ballet exercises. Seeing the way she whisperingly plotted a path across her carpet –‘pas, pas’, formal steps punctuated by sudden acrobatic leaps – the Horror had stopped to watch, mesmerized. So this was what humans did in private. They danced! How wondrous! And all the way to Savannah’s the Horror copied what it had seen, shooting over lampposts and rooftops in a series of risky pirouettes and sweeping vaults.
Reaching number thirty-three, the Horror used its subtle tongue to pick the front door lock.
It wasn’t afraid of being caught. If anyone did so it would simply kill them. Killing was a game, a lovely distraction, to this creature.
Padding merrily on its dog-like body, it eased into the hallway, humming softly to itself. Up the staircase. Onto the landing.
Pitter-patter past the toilet.
Toward the bedrooms.
The Horror stayed silent as it approached Savannah, containing its eagerness. A gland in its throat constantly spouted a yellowish liquid, but it was used to that and made sure none dripped onto the hallway carpet.
One more staircase to go.
Remembering the ballet girl, the Horror smiled. Then, raising its body shakily up on two legs, it crooked its front limbs just so – and waltzed like a dancer with an invisible partner up the last flight of stairs.
Savannah’s door was open. A breeze from the landing stirred the wavy ends of her hair. Glissade, the Horror thought. Thanks to the ballet girl, it knew several human words now. Without understanding what they meant, it had practised them on the way here, loving the sounds. Arrieré. Echappé. En dehors. Foutté. Port de bras. Battement!
Whispering the last of them, the Horror thrust like a fencer into Savannah’s bedroom. For a moment it stood there, its translucent, backward-swept teeth glistening. Then it sprang – an agile, dramatic fling of its hind legs that took it all the way over her duvet. If Savannah had woken she’d have seen the sharp points of the Horror’s head jabbing towards her neck. But Savannah did not wake. She slept on. Her lips were open, the bottom one pouting a little in the relaxed way it always did when she was asleep.
Seeing her eye lids dream-fluttering, the Horror cocked its head on one side. So it was true: humans dreamed as well. Did they dream of monsters the way it dreamed of humans?
Gripping the carpet, it vaulted to the ceiling. There it hung, suspended on suckered pads, its yellow mouth gaping. Savannah exhaled, and the Horror caught a waft of spearmint toothpaste. So excited was it by the smell that it forgot to stay quiet – and noisily sniffed her face.
Fifteen-year-old Savannah woke immediately. Blinking in the darkness, she propped herself up on one arm. What had she heard? A snort, followed by two or three quick scurries.
She stared at the door. Either she’d dreamt the noises, or an animal was in the house. Squirrels? A rat? The possibility that it was something as big as a rat kept her awake for a long time, listening. Eventually, hearing only silence, she dismissed the noises as nothing, and turned her head back into the pillow.
Once it was certain she was asleep again, the Horror slipped out from under Savannah’s bed. Thrusting its liquid mouth over her face, its lone eye peered down at her. Up close, Savannah didn’t look as dangerous as it had been led to believe. Physically she appeared the same as other teenage girls it had been shown pictures of. Or was she?
Disobeying its orders, the Horror teased the fabric of the sheet away from Savannah’s shoulders to reveal her neck. It discovered nothing unusual. Smooth skin. Soft flesh. The hollow of the throat rising gently up to the vocal cords. It was hard for the Horror to accept that inside that throat of hers was a weapon so uniquely powerful that if Savannah ever learned to control it there was virtually nothing which could stand against her.
But the Horror could hear the beginnings of that weapon. Distant noises. Faint rustlings. Distinctive click-click-clicks. They drifted in intervals from her lips. And occasionally even more ominous sounds emerged. Heavy booms. Muffled explosions – as if velveted bombs were igniting in the depths of her throat.
The Horror leaned avidly forward. It had an almost irresistible impulse to wake Savannah by biting that throat of hers, but no, it couldn’t do that, it wasn’t allowed. Its task was merely to listen to the sounds and report the findings to its master, the Ocrassa.
Frustrated – wanting to kill her now, cold and quick, while she slept – the Horror listened for another hour. Then, mewling in silent frustration into its claws, it sped moodily from the house and off into the leaf-blown night.
I’m not planning on doing any public events at the moment, though I am doing some schools, and there is still room in my 2009 school calendar for a few more later in the year if any librarians or English teachers are interested. Just send me an email via the CONTACT page.
I did have the good fortune to be involved in a ghost writing seminar recently, organized by Nikki Gamble as part of her excellent annual WRITE AWAY conferences. Weirdly, I’ve never been asked to do a workshop on ghost story writing before.
Luckily, any lack of preparation on my part was more than made up for by the teacher supporting me, Mat Tobin, who provided not just great enthusiasm but a wonderful practical exercise to draw everyone in. It was great fun, and made me realize I should offer workshops on ghost story writing as part of my school offerings. So thanks Mat and Nikki for kindling that idea.
FILM SCRIPT OF BREATHE
I’ve been working for a while with a Beverley Hills-based (yes, Hollywood) company on an adaptation of my ghost story BREATHE for an adult film audience.
It’s been a fascinating experience turning a dark children’s novel into an (even darker) adult supernatural chiller. At the moment negotiations for options on it are still very tentative, and perhaps nothing will happen with the script at all, but I’ve enjoyed writing it and it has given me a taste for more of the same.
I’ve long wanted to adapt THE DOOMSPELL to the screen (I’ve lost count of how many of you out there have asked me when a film of it will come out), but the truth is that a novel has to sell spectacularly well (usually) for it to be screen-adapted and made, and the Doomspell series, while it sold very well, wasn’t a blockbuster success in the same way as, say, Stormbreaker.
Anyhow, I may do some more screen-type work, either adapting my own books or maybe creating original screen stories. It’s an interesting area, and gives me a greater license to really explore my DARK SIDE.
It’s weird how a writing career pans out, actually. I started off just telling my daughter funny stories. Not sure how I ended up conjuring adult horror scenes. But for those who like my YA fare, don’t worry – I’ll continue to write that as well…
MEETING CHINA MIEVILLE AND MELVIN BURGESS
Finally, you think you get all hot under the collar at the prospect of meeting your favourite authors? Ditto.
My favourite living author is a brilliant sf/fantasy/horror adult writer called China Mieville.
Try out his PERDIDO STREET STATION for an entry point into his unbelievable writing, or younger readers might want to go straight for his UNLUNDON.
Anyway, I recently had the pleasure of attending an event where he was launching his new (crime) novel, The City and the City. Afterwards, star-struck, I gingerly introduced myself and found to my amazement that he’d read and enjoyed THE SILVER CHILD.
I was grinning all over my starry-eyed face, but more was to come. Along with China, my other favourite living author is the superb YA novelist, Melvin Burgess.
He’s just the best of the best in our field, simple as that. I’d been lucky enough to meet Melvin before, but I had no idea that he’d glanced at any of my books. Imagine how I felt, then, when I discovered he’d read THE SILVER SEQUENCE as well and also enjoyed it immensely.
The silver books are almost out of print right now in the U.K. (Actually, The Silver Child is still hanging on… just). They never did well commercially, but I spent three years writing them so you can imagine I’m fairly attached to their welfare.
So what could have been better, more truly wonderful, more delightful, than for me to find that my two most beloved authors both found pleasure in its pages. Vindication by the two people whose writerly judgement I respect more than anyone in the world. It meant a great deal to me.
That is all for now. I’m going walking in the Pennine’s for a while. After that, I’ll agree my next book with my publisher, and hopefully get it finished … sooner than the last... Be good to each other.
It has been awhile since I last updated this page, but that is because there is not a lot of news on the books front.
ANGEL was my last novel, and for reasons I will not go into here, I am delayed in getting the next one out and I am not sure when it will be. Probably next year (2010) rather than this.
Hopefully, the new covers will introduce a whole new generation of younger readers to them for the first time.
By the way, do you like the new pic of me? Gone has gone the enigmatic smile of black and white monochrome, and in comes the new coloured-in version with a broad happy grin. I thought it was time for an update when someone saw me at a school recently, looked at a printed version of the last photo on the website and, shaking their head, said, 'Naa, that's not you ... Naa, no way ... no ... is it? Naa ...'
On other news, those of you who have read the SILVER SEQUENCE will be disappointed to hear that the second and third books of that series are now out of print in the U.K. However, you can still order the UK editions from specialist sellers on amazon.co.uk, or straight from amazon.com where the American editions are still all available.
I have pointed the website towards the American editions, where they are more easily bought if you want them. I do like the American covers, actually, especially for SILVER CHILD and SILVER WORLD. THE SILVER CHILD is still available in a U.K. edition.
Oh, and I've had all sorts of editing problems on this page with weird characters appearing everywhere - and elsewhere on the website too! It's so bad i've decided to scrap all previous updates, which had become unreadable. Hopefully it'll get fixed soon.
Irritating, but there is nothing I can do about it. I am not even sure what the subject of that novel will be yet. In the meantime, you will have to make do with the reissues of the DOOMSPELL books, in flashy new covers.
It is weird to think that the first of these, THE DOOMSPELL itself, came out in 2000, so the readers of 10-12 who were its main focus are now heading towards or already sliding into their twenties.
I will be at the Stratford Literary Festival on April 30th. More details to follow once I know the arrangements.
I had a lovely day recently at the North East Teenage Award Ceremony in Newcastle.
ANGEL was on a shortlist with 4 other books by Anthony McGowan, Jenny Valentine, Mary Hoffman, Sam Entoven and Nick Hornby. ANGEL was well-liked but the prize went to Jenny Valentine for BROKEN SOUP.
It was great to participate, see so many enthusiastic youngsters and enjoy the company of the other authors. Seeing all the other writers together you realize what a different bunch of people authors are, how interestingly varied.
Reactions to ANGEL have generally been very good, but it has received a few bitingly nasty reviews from readers in the United States. Interesting, really. Since this is the warmest book in some ways I have written, with such an inclusive message, I have been surprised, but I have written about secular angels, and I suspect that I may have stepped on the toes of a few people who have very religiously fixed views on the subject.
Oh well, as someone told me, you cannot write anything any good without offending someone. That is all for now.
Be good to each other. Ciao. Cliff