Sunday, 6 July 2008

Number 4 With A Bullet!

I'll let you in to a sad little secret. For years I have gone into my local Tesco store and I have always, always had a quick glance at the children's book section, hoping to see one of my titles in their children's chart. And it has never happened... until three days ago, when sure enough, there was Alec Devlin: The Eye Of The Serpent in at number 4 on it's first day of release.

To say I was pleased would be something of an understatement. I was delighted and also a tad mystified. The book doesn't receive its official release until August 7th, but Tesco have chosen it as their Book Club Choice for July, so for one month only, readers can grab the opportunity to enjoy its visceral delights via the world's most successful supermarket chain. It comes complete with a ball point pen which has a little compass set into it. An adult friend of mine purchased a copy and reported that the compass was 'unreliable'. I'm not sure what he intended to do with it, but it hasn't detracted from my joy one iota. 

Of course, some will argue that an author rejoicing about being in  a chart compiled by a supermarket is a touch sad. Maybe, but Tesco is a part of most people's everyday lives and I've always wanted my books to reach as wide an audience as possible, so let them scoff. Even if the book drops to number 93 next week, I will have had my moment of glory and they can't take that away from me now.

The other recent book-related issue that I've been involved with is age-banding. Like most authors, I received a letter from my publisher telling me that from now on, the back covers of my books would carry an age-banding symbol. (Alec Devlin, for instance, will be banded 9+). I'll confess that I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Then I received an email from Philip Pullman. In my business, this is tantamount to receiving a message from God.

It seems Mr Pullman and many of his colleagues are bitterly opposed to age-banding and he was urging me to sign a petition to say that I too was against the idea. Having considered his arguments carefully, I decided that he had a point and duly did as he requested. In the following weeks, the debate hotted up considerably and it looks as though there's going to be a real fight over this subject. More recently, I have received other emails from  highly regarded children's authors, telling me that they intend to fight this insidious evil to their last drop of blood.

I can't say that I'm all that worked up about it. Alec Devlin is already printed with its 9+ logo on the back cover and I'm certainly not going to insist that it be changed. But it will be interesting to see how all the hoo-hah pans out.

Meanwhile, those who wish to read an adventure story that features ancient Egyptian curses, ravenous beasts, mouldering mummies and a man whose skin is made from millions of scarab beetles should take themselves off to Tesco with undue haste and snap up a copy at the ridiculously low price of £4. Just don't use the compass pen on a trekking holiday in Nepal, there's no telling where you may end up!

Friday, 6 June 2008

A Refreshing Surprise

I finally got to hear the American audio version of my book, Sebastian Darke: Prince Of Fools. It's on 7 CD's and is read by the actor Maxwell Caulfield. (Film buffs will remember his debut role in the film Grease 2 and I was rather fond of a little movie he made called The Boys next Door. He's had quite a few successes on Broadway too).

I have to make a confession here. I anticipated the worst. I really did. No offence to Mr Caulfield, but I fully expected him to have an American accent; and to my mind, that would have been an absolute disaster. Now, I don't know what kind of inbuilt conceit makes us Brits think that a book with a medieval setting should be read in a classic English accent, but think it we do, and think it I did, despite the fact that the book isn't even set in England! I wandered dismally around, muttering darkly about how the Americans would 'probably murder my book' and so forth.

So imagine my delight, when I slipped the first disk into my CD player and was regaled by a voice that sounded every bit as British as afternoon tea on the lawn. Not only that, but Mr Caulfield has given Max a voice that is full of character, King Septimus sounds as oily and malevolent as he should, and even giving Cornelius a West Country burr was all right by me. In short, Mr Caulfield has done me proud.
So I'd like to take the opportunity to thank him for his sterling work and to express the hope that he will apply his considerable talents to the other Sebastian Darke books. 

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A Blast From The Past

I received an email today - a fan letter. And it was a real blast.

Now, please don't get the impression that I'm not used to getting fan mail, it arrives every so often and I'm always glad to receive it. But this was somebody telling me that they'd just read The Sins Of Rachel Ellis and had really enjoyed it.

Rachel Ellis was my first ever novel. It was published way back in in 1976 and was the first book deal I ever made, a very exciting happening in the life of a young author. I was living in a shared house in London with a bunch of other wild young things and this was my third serious attempt at a novel. I'd somehow managed to procure an agent, a lovely lady called Janet Freer, who took me on and showed my stuff to anybody who'd read it. Somebody at St Martin's Press, an American publisher, read it and liked it enough to offer a deal.

You'd have thought, wouldn't you, that having scored with one occult story, I'd have then produced another? But no, I was young enough (and arrogant enough) to believe that I could conquer just about any genre , so rather than concentrating on the bird in hand, I went chasing headlong  after several imaginary birds in the bush. Result: I didn't publish a second book for a very long time.

After several years of fruitless bird-chasing, I was finally humbled enough to pitch a projected Rachel Ellis sequel to St Martin's press, but by then it was far too late. The ship had left the dock, so to speak.

So I moved on to other things - I eventually managed to publish my second novel, Tiger,Tiger in the 1980's but it wasn't until the 90's that a series of thrillers for Headline finally had me keeping my ideas to (more or less) one genre. And now, a full 30 years later, here I am a children's author. Sebastian Darke, begun as no more than a means of keeping my young daughter occupied for one rainy day, has become far and away the most successful book I've ever been involved with. And soon a new series, Alec Devlin, will be unleashed upon the unsuspecting world.

Rachel Ellis seems to be from another life entirely - so to hear it mentioned in such a way was a real blast from the past. Yes, I had recently discovered that secondhand copies of the book are all over the internet like a rash; and I had even seen reader's comments on Amazon, stating that this was 'their book' when they were teenagers. One guy described it as a 'guilty pleasure.' (I think every author secretly longs to be thought of as that!)

So thanks, Michelle, for taking the trouble to let me know that you enjoyed my debut, even if you did discover it 30 years after the event. 

Reader's feedback is always appreciated but yours really did feel like something special.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Wheels Start Turning...

After my last, rather morose posting, I've decided to stop muttering darkly about lone magpies and bad omens and try and be a bit more upbeat about things. 

And besides, I've recently heard that Tesco are going to take a large number of copies of Alec Devlin: The Eye Of The Serpent for their book club. I'm so excited, I've decided to give you a glimpse of one of Julek Heller's fabulous illustrations. here are three hyenas looking well scary, I think you'll agree...

And yes, I know, it's a sad day when an author has to get all excited by the fact that his masterpiece has been purchased by a supermarket chain, but hey, these are hard times and Tesco are very influential in the book trade, so... bring it on, I say! 

I've decided to do everything I can to bring my work to a wider audience, which is why, in two days time, I'll be heading off to Southport, to speak to several hundred school children, in what promises to be an energetic sort of day. Actually, I love going into the schools and meeting the audiences, it's one of the nicest things about being a children's author.

I also heard this morning that Alec Devlin is finally going to press today, which means we'll soon have some advance copies to send out to those publishers who asked to see it at the Bologna Book Fair - and I think I can confirm at this stage, that it's quite a list. 

And from Random House, I've been picking up the first mutterings about plans for the launch of Alec D in August - some pretty exciting things, if the stories are to be believed, though I dare not mention any of them yet, in case they don't happen and I end up looking like a bit of a prat. 

Now, I understand this blog is mostly about Alec Devlin, but I have a bit of news about Sebastian Darke too. Both of the available titles have made it onto the SLA Boys Into Books lists. This is great news because it means they will be recommended to children all over the country. Prince Of Fools made it onto the list last year and I was thrilled because it's up there with classic titles like Treasure Island and Wind In The Willows. I'm currently putting the finishing touches to volume three, Prince Of Explorers and meanwhile, I'm hoping that I might just be able to persuade Random House to go for two more adventures to complete the series. Watch this space...

Monday, 7 April 2008


The Bologna Book fair, the biggest international event for children's publishing has been and gone and I've heard nothing more than the fact that lots of publishers expressed interest in Alec Devlin. I have to admit, I have an unrealistic view of proceedings. Two years ago, the Sebastian Darke series came back from Bologna having been signed to ten publishers in four days, but I had no idea how unusual this was.

Furthermore, most of those publishers are only up to their first volume of Seb; indeed Random House USA publishes volume one tomorrow - so understandably, they are going to be somewhat cautious about throwing their hat into the ring for a brand new (and radically different) series and not just because of the awful exchange rate for the dollar! 

This hasn't stopped me creeping about the house looking as though I'm waiting for the news of an imminent birth; or twitching convulsively every time the phone rings. To compound matters, I'm waiting for my editor, Charlie, to come back to me about Sebastian Darke 3

I've fallen back on my old ruse of counting magpies. If I see two of them (and it's not unusual because we have a pair that nest in the garden every year) my spirit momentarily lifts... if I see a solitary bird, I become dejected and have to bellow my usual phrase at the poor creature until it (and the occasional passer-by) must think me quite demented. 

Let them, I'm past caring. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Introducing Alec Devlin...

After the 'anything goes' fantasy world of Sebastian Darke, I wanted to do something a little more rooted in reality; so I pitched the idea for a new series to my editor, Charlie and she liked what she heard. Random House commissioned three adventures and I settled down to write the first one.

Egypt, 1923. Fifteen-year-old Alec Devlin is on his way to the Valley of The Kings to spend the summer holidays working on his Uncle Will's archaeological dig. It's not the first time he's spent his summer this way... but this year things are different.
Uncle Will and his young assistant, Tom, have recently made an amazing discovery - an ancient tomb hidden deep below the earth. But only hours after opening its doors, Uncle Will falls mysteriously ill and Tom seems to have disappeared without trace.
Alec sets about unravelling the tomb's mysteries - seemingly harmless animals have turned into rabid killers, long dead mummies are rising from their tombs, the spirit of a powerful High Priest is claiming people as his living hosts... and Alec must confront a terror that has waited three thousand years to be reborn.

Well, that's the jacket blurb, anyway and I wrote it myself, so I can't complain that it doesn't get across the story. What I'm going for here is Boy's Own Adventure, and I hope I've succeeded in achieving it.

I quickly discovered that I'd had a pretty easy ride with the Sebastian Darke books. As those adventures all took place in an imaginary world, I was free to invent whatever I wanted to. Not so with Alec. Every little detail had to be checked for period authenticity. Clothes, cars, planes, telephones, you name it! 
I turned the manuscript around in a remarkably short time frame - around three months from start to finish, mainly to hit a deadline specified by Random House; and as I sit here typing this, I'm waiting rather nervously for news from the Bologna Book Fair, where foreign rights for Alec Devlin are being offered to publishers around the world. 

The fun thing about this series is it will deal with a different ancient civilization in each book. For the next one, Alec is off to Mexico to tangle with the Aztecs, but that's only at the planning stage right now. The next hurdle is to complete Sebastian Darke: Prince of Explorers. Meanwhile, Alec Devlin; Eye of the Serpent gets it's UK release on August 7th 2008, so between then and now, I'll keep checking back with you to let you know how it's all progressing.