Blog posts tagged "Inspirations"
Actually, I doubt it was to the day, but I couldn’t resist the Sergeant Pepper’s reference, even though it doesn’t scan. Anyway, it was twenty-two years ago when I made the fateful decision to bunk off school and go along to a book signing by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean instead.
I was fourteen years old, just starting my GCSEs at a rather bleak comprehensive school in Salford. This was the kind of school where the P.E. teacher forced you to do press-ups in an icy puddle at the start of every lesson, Woodwork and Metalwork were mainly concerned with the production of concealed armaments, and Chemistry lessons a constant battle for control of the gas taps between the kids who wanted to blow up the Science block and those of us who wanted to live. It wasn’t the kind of school where authors popped in to chat about their latest books and reveal the secrets of the writing life. To me the idea of meeting a writer was as strange and exotic as the idea of meeting an astronaut (another childhood ambition, as yet sadly unfulfilled).
It wasn’t that I didn’t know about authors; my brain was full to bursting with their names. I was the Incredible Book Eating Boy before Oliver Jeffers had even drawn him, devouring the shelves of my local library. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, John Wyndham, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Cormier, Ursula Le Guin. With every book I took out, a new favourite author could be discovered and I’d then eagerly seek out everything that they had written.
As well as books I loved comics, a passion born from my paper round. As I waited for the newsagent to load up my delivery bag, I flicked through old DC and Marvel comics on a spinner at the back of the shop, the worlds of these four-colour heroes a welcome escape from the slate-grey streets. Then when Saturday came around, I’d spend every penny of my wages on these comic books: Batman, Detective Comics, Daredevil, 2000AD. That newsagent must’ve loved me!
After a while though, I’d finally depleted his stock of comics and had to look further afield for a fresh source. I’d seen an advertisement in the pages of 2000AD for a comic shop called Odyssey 7 in Manchester. So one Saturday morning, leaving the paper shop with my wages in my pocket for a change, I jumped on the bus into town to search out this shop. Trudging down Oxford Road, I turned into the shopping precinct at Manchester University and entered an Aladdin’s Cave.
Odyssey 7 didn’t just have a single spinner filled with comics; it had boxes of them running down the central aisle of the shop. Flicking through them, I could see comics about every superhero I had ever heard of and dozens more that I hadn’t. Along the walls were posters, magazines, and on a section of shelves filled with large, glossy books, something called graphic novels. That’s where I discovered Violent Cases.
I can’t remember what initially drew me to this book. Maybe it was the illicit promise of the title that appealed to my teenage mind. But when I picked it up and started to flick through the pages, I was entranced. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was like nothing I had ever read before. In black-and-white and without a superhero in sight, it was a story about childhood told in the most remarkable way. This wasn’t a comic book, this was something else. Leaving behind the handful of Batman comics I’d already picked up, I took the book to the counter and bought my first graphic novel.
Over the next week I must have read Violent Cases more than a dozen times, each time finding some new detail to obsess over. For those who haven’t yet read it, I won’t give away too much, but something in this story sang to me. Its depiction of the narrator’s memories of his childhood: a fuzzy and confusing world, where adults lied and the threat of violence was never far from the surface, fascinated and troubled me at the same time.
The next Saturday I was standing at the counter of Odyssey 7 again, and, using the same logic that had served me so well in the library, asked if they had any more books by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The man at the counter pointed me in the direction of a couple of new comic books, Black Orchid and the first issue of something called The Sandman, and then he told me something that changed my life.
“They’re coming in to do a signing next week.”
I looked up at the poster in the shop window. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean would be signing copies of Violent Cases, the book that had blown my mind, next Friday afternoon. It was incredible – here was a chance to meet a real live author and a fantastic artist too. There was only one problem. The only way I’d be able to get to the signing in time would be to bunk off school at lunchtime. I think the time of the signing was 2pm, enough time I reasoned to get the bus into town, get my new favourite author to sign my books (I’d now bought the first issues of both Black Orchid and The Sandman as well) and still get home before my mum got back from work. That way I could pretend that I’d been in school all day, just like normal.
That was the plan. When Friday arrived, I sneaked out of school as the lunchtime bell rang and caught the bus into town. But arriving at Odyssey 7 just before two in the afternoon, I discovered my plan’s first flaw. Outside the store a queue snaked across the shopping precinct and out onto Oxford Road. (Remember, this was a signing for his very first book – Lord knows what kind of monstrous wyrm a Neil Gaiman signing queue looks like nowadays!) Joining the back of the queue I slowly started to worry. With the speed the queue was moving at, there was no way I’d get back home in time to pretend I’d been in school all day. If I stayed put, I was going to be in trouble. Big trouble.
Standing around me in the queue were trench-coated university students, their comic books and graphic novels tucked under their arms. I was still wearing my school uniform, my copy of Violent Cases, Black Orchid and The Sandman shoved in the depths of my school bag. This was the only chance I’d ever have to meet the extraordinary people who had created these stories. I stayed in the line
Eventually, sometime after four I think, I made it inside the shop, the remnants of the queue now snaking around the central aisle and back up to the counter where two guys were seated, patiently signing each book that was thrust in front of them. They didn’t look much older than students themselves, but the face of one of them was strangely familiar. From my bag, I dug out my copy of Violent Cases and turned to the first page. There, staring out at me in black and white was the same face. This was Neil Gaiman.
It’s funny, I’m trying to remember now what happened next, but my memories are turning out to be as fragmentary as those of the narrator of Violent Cases. I don’t really remember getting to the front of the queue, can’t recall what I said when I handed over my books to Neil and Dave to be signed. But when I finally stepped out of the comic shop and started walking back to the bus station and the inevitable mountain of trouble I was in, I remember thinking one thing: I wanted to be a writer.
Fast forward twenty-two years. Neil Gaiman is now one of the most famous authors on the planet. He’s written a mountain of books that I love: Coraline, Stardust, The Wolves in the Walls, American Gods, The Graveyard Book; not to mention all his comics and graphic novels, film screenplays and TV scripts (including possibly my favourite-ever episode of Doctor Who). Dave McKean is an award-winning artist, author and filmmaker.
As for me, well, at the end of this week my novel The Dead Ways is published, whilst early next year sees the publication of Twelve Minutes to Midnight. Two very different books, but both the realisation of a childhood dream. And on the 29th October at Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester, I’ve got my first signing session.
Unfortunately, it’s on a Saturday, so I’m not going to present any school-age children with the same moral dilemma I faced. But there will be ghostly happenings, a fancy-dress competition in the queue, and prizes for the reader wearing the spookiest outfit. I can’t wait.
When I finally got confirmation of the event, I tweeted about how twenty-two years after I’d skipped school to go along to a book signing by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, I finally had my own to announce. And then to my utter astonishment, Neil Gaiman replied!
“That makes me so proud! And so old!”
With a grin as wide as the Joker’s on my face, I tweeted back to try and thank him in 140 characters or less for all the inspiration he’d given me and, more importantly, finally let him know how much trouble he’d indirectly got me in. (I was grounded for a month for bunking off school!) Then a few minutes later, his reply popped up.
“You did the right thing.”
And I know he’s right. That day twenty-two years ago, was the first time I believed it was possible to become a writer. An outlandish dream sparked into life as I stood in front of the counter in that Manchester comic shop and met Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The day that changed my life.
Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time – the publication day of Twelve Minutes to Midnight! I’m immensely excited about the prospect of going into a bookshop and spotting my book out there in the wilds of the shelves at last. It hardly seems a minute ago when it was just a tiny Word document with a title page, a chapter heading and a handful of words typed inside. Sniff!
Looking back at my notebook where I first scribbled my ideas for Twelve Minutes to Midnight, I was reminded of some of the inspirations which seeped into the pages of the story in strange and unforeseen ways and I thought I'd share some of these with you here.
“I chose next to wander by Bethlehem Hospital … partly, because I had a night fancy in my head which could be best pursued within sight of its walls and dome. And the fancy was this: Are not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming? Are not all of us outside this hospital, who dream, more or less in the condition of those inside it, every night of our lives?” Charles Dickens
“People think dreams aren't real just because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” Neil Gaiman
“Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” Virginia Woolf
“The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.” H. G. Wells
“The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion” Albert Einstein
“The past is still there, the future has always been here. Every moment that has existed or will ever exist is all part of this giant hyper-moment of space-time.” Alan Moore
“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” Winston Churchill
Finally, if Twelve Minutes to Midnight had a theme song, I think it would be the song at the top of this page. Sweet dreams...
I'm thrilled to reveal that Twelve Minutes to Midnight has been shortlisted for both the 2013 Northern Ireland Book Award and the Warwickshire Secondary Book Award. It's been chosen alongside some marvellous books on both shortlists and I'm really proud to be a part of these awards that help promote a love of reading.
Speaking of which, the education company Pearson have recently launched a campaign to promote reading for pleasure. If you visit the Enjoy Reading website, you'll find a host of videos from myself and the author Michaela Morgan sharing our ideas and tips for parents on ways to help children to enjoy reading. Watch these if you want to find out why I recommend you don't turn up at the birth of your first child with a copy of War and Peace, and exactly which Axel Scheffler book taught my daughter the word 'Monster'.
I've also got a new blog up on the Bookbuzz website where I write about the literary inspiration I found on my older brother's bookshelf when I was growing up. And finally, I just wanted to share the following poem that an eleven year-old reader of Twelve Minutes to Midnight sent to me recently. Caution - mild spoilers ahead if you haven't read the book yet!
At Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Nothing is as it seems
At Twelve Minutes to Midnight
The inmates of Bedlam awake from their dreams
At Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Visions are unleashed
And Penelope is intrigued
Soon she can't resist
The suspicious mist
And secrets of the future
Thanks so much Ahlaam for sending me your poem and giving me permission to share it on this blog.
Happy New Year everyone! Don't worry, I haven't succumbed to a bout of rampant egomania; the title of this blogpost is taken from an internet meme called the #NextBigThing that I've been invited to take part in. The charming Piers Torday who I met at the CWIG conference in Reading last year tagged me to take part in this back in December, but due to a flurry of last-minute deadlines and pre-Christmas preparations, I'm only now getting round to posting this up. Piers's debut novel The Last Wild which has been described by one reader as a 'sci-fi Roald Dahl' is one of my most eagerly-awaited reads of 2013 and you can find out more about it by reading Piers's #NextBigThing post here.
Anyway, here are my answers to the #NextBigThing questions:
What's the title of your next book?
Shadows of the Silver Screen. It's the follow-up to Twelve Minutes to Midnight.
Where did the idea come from?
When I finished writing Twelve Minutes to Midnight, I knew there were more stories I wanted to tell about Penelope, Alfie and Monty and even stranger mysteries for them to solve. Shadows of the Silver Screen is set at the dawn of the twentieth century: a time when the new-fangled world of moving pictures was taking its first steps from the fairground to the cinema screen, whilst spirit photographers and charlatans claimed to be able to photograph the dead. I've always loved haunted house stories and when I had the idea of a mysterious filmmaker approaching The Penny Dreadful to turn one of Montgomery Flinch's stories into a motion picture, I saw the chance to combine these two strands into a haunted house story with a twist...
What genre does your book fall under?
Mystery and adventure with a touch of the supernatural.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?
I think I'd have to scour the country, holding a series of Harry Potter-style open auditions to cast the part of Penelope Tredwell, but I'd love to see Mark Gatiss play the part of Montgomery Flinch. I'm a huge fan of his work in Crooked House, The First Men in the Moon and the remarkable Sherlock, so if he wanted to adapt, produce and direct it too, he'd be more than welcome!
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
What if the camera could capture more than just memories of the past - would you dare to watch the shadows of the silver screen?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Shadows of the Silver Screen will be published on the 10th January 2013 by Nosy Crow.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took me about a year to finish the first draft of Shadows of the Silver Screen. Moving house in the middle of writing and having to scribble away in an unfinished office whilst builders, plumbers and electricians knocked the house down around my ears probably didn't help my productivity!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
One of the highlights of 2012 for me was appearing on stage alongside Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival. Although I wouldn't dare to compare my books to Phililp Pullman's, several reviewers of Twelve Minutes to Midnight said that it would appeal to fans of his Sally Lockhart series which was a comparison I was delighted by.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think every book I write takes inspiration in some way from the stories I have read and seen. Shadows of the Silver Screen has its roots entwined with classic ghost stories such as The Ash Tree by M.R. James and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
If you want to find out what happened to the man who invented cinema but who history forgot, you should read Shadows of the Silver Screen.
Who are you passing the baton to for next week's Next Big Thing?
Two fantastic authors who I share a roost with at the Nosy Crow nest. Helen Peters, author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret Hen House Theatre, who tweets as @farmgirlwriter, and Paula Harrison, author of the fabulous Rescue Princesses series and the forthcoming Faerie Tribes.
Nearly two years ago now, when my debut novel was published and I had my first ever book signing, I blogged about how I had bunked off school aged fourteen to see Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean sign copies of their debut graphic novel, Violent Cases, on what I imagine was Neil Gaiman's first ever signing tour. If you want to, you can read the blog post here.
This summer Neil Gaiman published his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and embarked on what he announced would be his final book signing tour. And this Wednesday Neil Gaiman will be in conversation with Philip Pullman at the Oxford Playhouse, with both authors signing books at the end of the evening. And I've got a ticket.
Needless to say, I'm rather excited. One of the highlights of my brief authorial career to date was when I appeared alongside Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival last year at an event to talk about the influence of Charles Dickens's work on children's fiction. Although I was too nervous to say more than a handful of words to him backstage before the event, on stage he showed a real generosity of spirit to myself and Jasmine Richards, the other debut author on the panel, and after the event, he very kindly signed my copy of Lyra's Oxford with best wishes for Penelope Tredwell and Twelve Minutes to Midnight! I'm currently halfway through his wonderful retellings of Grimm's folk tales and reading each story is like discovering a fresh stream in an ancient forest, his pellucid prose illuminating these familiar and half-forgotten tales in so many fascinating ways.
But before I began reading this, I was immersed in the pages of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and, to be honest, I think I'm still recovering from this. Halfway through the first chapter, I almost put the book down and didn't think that I was going to be able to read it to the end. Not because it is a bad book, far from it; but to borrow the words of a fellow Mancunian, it was too close to home and too near the bone...
The first book of Neil Gaiman's I ever read was Violent Cases, a story where the adult narrator looks back on events from his childhood, recalling through a haze of distance and memory, a confusing world where adults lied and cruelty seems a common currency. When I read this as a teenager, the story sang to me, even though I probably didn't fully understand every detail of the tale contained in its pages. Fast forward twenty-five years and I'm reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a story where the unnamed adult narrator returns to his old hometown for the funeral of his father, and, from there, drives to find the ocean at the end of the lane and begins to recall exactly what happened to him when he was a boy. But unlike the narrator of Violent Cases, the narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane recounts the events of his youth with a crystal-clear clarity: the loneliness and the unhappiness, the refuge he found in the books he read, and above all, the darkness. As I turned the pages I felt as though I was reading the book through two pairs of eyes: the eyes of my adult self, and the boy I once was. But as Lettie Hempstock says in the pages of the story "The truth is there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."
I won't say anymore about this remarkable novel, but if you haven't read it, I'd strongly urge you to do so. And on Wednesday evening I'm looking forward to seeing Neil Gaiman in conversation with Philip Pullman, and I hope that I get the chance to say thank you.
On Wednesday evening I went to the Oxford Playhouse to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Philip Pullman. It was a wonderful event and you can listen to nearly the whole thing in this Waterstones podcast (although sadly this doesn’t include Neil Gaiman’s hilarious reading of an extract from his forthcoming children’s book Fortunately, The Milk which rounded off the evening).
The two authors spoke about imagination and creation, dreams and stories, the books that shaped them as children and the wonders of The Library. As I sat there on the back row of the balcony listening to them talk, it reminded me what an absolute privilege it is to be a children’s author. To have the chance to sow a single seed in the shape of a story which might then take root in the mind of a reader. I thought about the forests that both Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman have seen spring from the stories that they have told, and the inspiration they have given to countless other imaginations in turn.
Alongside the hardback editions of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Sandman that I had in my bag, I had a copy of my novel Twelve Minutes to Midnight with a dedication to Neil Gaiman written inside. I had last seen him twenty-five years ago, when I had bunked off school aged fourteen to see him at a book signing alongside Dave McKean at a comic book shop in Manchester. That was the moment that made me believe it was even possible to become an author, and Neil Gaiman’s books took pride of place on the shelves of the library of my childhood; the fuel that has fed my imagination as a writer ever since.
My position at the very back row of the balcony turned out to be a golden ticket as it took me to almost the front of the queue for the signing that took place after the event. As Neil signed my books, I explained that I'd last seen him at a signing in Manchester twenty-five years earlier and he amazed me by remembering the blogpost I had written about this, where I also had tried to express my feelings about The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I finally had the chance to thank him in person and he very kindly thanked me in turn for my gift of Twelve Minutes to Midnight, saying he was looking forward to reading this. When he opens the novel he'll see the following dedication inside:
“Thank you for helping to plant a seed twenty-five years ago. It grew into this book.”
Many thanks to Charlotte Morris and Leen Van Broeck for allowing me to include their photographs of the event here.