Commodore 64

My ‘Commodore 64’ and ‘Arena 13’.

‘Arena 13’ started with my Commodore 64 computer and a language called ‘FORTH’.
The photo is of the Commodore 64 which was my first ever computer. I bought it in 1983 or 1984 (can’t quite remember the exact date!). I played games on it and started to dabble in programming (coding). First I used ‘BASIC’ and then I found a computer language that I really loved called ‘FORTH’. I liked it because you could name your own words and place them in the coding dictionary.
In those days I was trying to write Science Fiction and always trying to come up with ideas. I found out that FORTH was used by some astronomers to control radio telescopes. So I wondered if it could be used to control androids. So I came up with the idea of ‘lacs’ (simulacra) that would fight in an arena alongside humans. You would win a contest by cutting the flesh of your human opponent. But lacs would be fully armoured. The only way you could defeat a lac was to place your blade in a socket in its throat. That would call the word ‘endoff’ and the lac would fall and be out of the contest.
I wrote the first draft of the story on paper and forgot all about it. Then in 1991 when I was hoping to become a computer programmer (rather than a teacher) I decided that my typing speed was too slow. In order the get fast fingers I decided to type in the whole of that book as an exercise. I did but, in the process of doing so, I decided that I’d rather be a writer than a programmer. 
When I finished typing it in I sent it off to three potential agents. Only one replied but on the basis of that book Carolyn Whitaker of ‘London Independent Books’ took me on and, after years of effort and rejections (over 90), got me published in 2004.
The book that finally got me into print was ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’. But the book I typed into my word processor (trying to get fast fingers) back in the 1991 was eventually to become ‘Arena 13’. 
So it all started with my Commodore 64 and a language called ‘FORTH’. 
The second book in the series, ‘Arena 13: The Prey’ is available now.
In the background is a picture of a ginger cat. That was our family pet and it became the inspiration for Kratch, the cat boggart, who makes the Spook’s breakfast and now, in later books, fights alongside Tom Ward.

Joseph Delaney

Arena 13 in France

Arena 13  was published in France November 5th. 

I will be in Paris in early December, I will post details soon. 


A few weeks ago I was in Brazil to attend  the Bienal Do Livro.

I was impressed by the scale of the festival, it occupied three large pavilions and ran from the 3rd of September to the 13th.   It was very well organised, appeared to be busy at all times of the day and was an interesting festival to be part of.  At my talk I wore headphones as did those in the audience who didn’t speak English. There was a translator in a booth at the back and when I spoke she translated into Portuguese and when I was asked a question she translated into English. It was very efficient and apart from me forgetting sometimes to take my headphones off so when I spoke I could hear myself in Portuguese it was a very seamless way of communicating.  “Just like the UN!’ someone said, and when I was escorted back to my hotel by a couple of body guards I did feel like a dignitary!  All authors who were presenting were asked to take a selfie with the audience behind them – it may come as a shock to many that I could reach 70 and never take a selfie but this was my first ever.  

My publishers Bertrand were great hosts and it was lovely to meet them.  Brazilian readers are very enthusiastic and I signed for three hours and took part in a lot of selfies ( I didn’t take these ones ) You can see the photos of the signing on my facebook page.  I met some lovely people and many of them had travelled a long way to be there, it is very humbling to be confronted with that level of commitment and I was very touched by it.  Later in the week I went to Sao Paolo, where I experienced rain equal to Lancashire rain, but despite this  many people turned up to meet me and have their books signed and again I was truly appreciative. 

Danny Mainzer who was the artist behind the Spook lego presented me with the original photo which I now have hanging on my study wall . 

Maria Clara showed me the tattoo on her back.  What can I say, Grimalkins scissors seem made for this.   I was speechless!  At a signing a few years ago I met a young man who had the Spook icon tattooed on his arm .

I had a couple of days at the end of my festival commitments to explore a little of Brazil, but as ever never long enough and I would definitely like to go back.   

Reveiw of Arena 13 by Alexandra Vivarelli

I met Alex in a bookshop in Paris several years ago when I was on tour. She was at school then and a fan of Spooks. Now she is at University and over the years I have been very grateful for her help with French translating.   Here is a review I asked her to write of Arena 13.  

Joesph Delaney has always been a highly talented novelist. Having read the "Spooks Apprentice" saga when I was a teenager, I must say I was very curious to discover the universe of Arena 13. I wasn't disappointed! 
Arena 13, the first book in a new saga, allows us to rediscover all the elements that made The Wardstone Chronicles such a great saga: there's the young hero, secrets, a dark universe... 
However Arena 13 is different: it's set in a dystopian world but there are fantastic elements. Moreover, the Arena and the fights can make us think about gladiators in Ancient Rome. 
Joseph Delaney managed to create a new world, he gives us details about the society and all the beliefs and histories concerning the Arena. 
Leif remains mysterious, I really want to know what will happen to him! However, some parts are quite "gory" and that could be a problem for some readers. 

Joseph Delaney a toujours été et reste un écrivain talentueux. Ayant lu la saga "l'Apprenti Epouvanteur" étant adolescente j'étais curieuse de dévouvrir l'univers d'Arena 13. Et je n'ai pas été déçue ! 
Dans ce livre, qui marque le début d'une nouvelle saga, nous retrouvons ce qui a fait le succès de l'Apprenti Epouvanteur : un jeune héros, des secrets, un univers sombre...
Mais Arena 13 est différent : l'histoire mêle un monde dystopique au surnaturel et aux "combats de gladiateurs". 
Joseph Delaney réussit à créer un monde totalement nouveau, nous donne des détails sur la société et les croyances entourant l'Arène.  
Leif reste mystérieux, ce qui me donne envie de connaitre la suite de son histoire ! Toutefois, certains passages sont très "sanglants" ce qui pourrait être un frein pour certains lecteurs. 

Gladiator Playlist

This is a playlist I was asked to write for a Waterstones promotion a while ago. They didn't use it and I enjoyed the process of compiling it and thought it was a shame to waste.

What would your playlist look like?


The following songs are favourites of mine and I sometimes listen to them to get me in the mood for writing although I then write my books in silence. They are also visually important to me because I stream them on my iPad and watch the videos that accompany the songs.

They would also be useful for a combatant to listen to whilst preparing to fight in Arena 13!

(1)    The Pepsi Advert: ‘We Will Rock You. Or the Queen version of ‘We Will Rock You’

In the advert the three female combatants wait their turn to enter an arena and fight. They beat their shields and weapons to create a metallic rhythmical thunder. I like the build-up followed by the chants, cheers and accompaniment of the crowd. It creates anticipation. Or if you prefer listen to Freddy Mercury (the greatest of all Rock Arena performers) strutting his stuff across the stage. He looks ready to do battle! Either version would get you in the mood to fight in Arena 13.

(2)    ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie

This too is stirring stuff and in my mind has a close association with my book. After all combat in Arena 13 is a kind of dance. I really like the video too because it features a pair of red shoes. Red shoes will play an important role in the plot.

(3)    ‘Love Song for a Vampire’ by Annie Lennox

This has tremendous emotional power and generates atmosphere. It is also linked to one of my favourite films: ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This makes me think of the character in my book called Hob, the rogue djinn who terrorizes the city of Gindeen. He takes both blood and souls so he is something of a vampire himself! Sometimes he also fights in Arena 13 and those he defeats are never seen again.

(4)    ‘The whole of the Moon’ by ‘The Waterboys’

I particularly like the imagery in the video of the song that I watch. It is full of scenes that would look good and appropriate on any cover of a fantasy novel. Also the characters in Arena 13 only see part of the world that they inhabit. The truth lies beyond the barrier of mist and fear that imprisons their land. They need to go through it to see the whole of the moon!

(5)    ‘Turkish Delight’ by Cleo Laine

This needs to be listened to many times in order to truly appreciate the genius of the singer. Cleo Laine uses her voice as an instrument and it makes me think of the skill of patterning that artificers such as Tyron practise in the book. Using wurdes of Nym they seek to craft sentience into the lacs that fight alongside men in Arena 13. It is a dance of verbal patterns to match the dancing feet of combatants. It is what we now sometimes call ‘coding’.

(6)    ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ by Cindy Lauper

I like the sheer exuberance and energy of this song and the classic video. Cindy makes me think of Kwin, the girl heroine in Arena 13. It is a male dominated society so girls and women are not allowed to fight in arena 13. However they can take part in stick-fighting! Kwin is a rebel.

(7)    ‘We are the Champions’ by Queen

This is a rousing anthem that spells out what most combatants in Arena 13 strive to be – the best of the best!

(8)    ‘Just Give Me a Reason’ by Pink

This is about a turbulent broken relationship that might possibly be fixed. At the heart of Arena 13 there is also a slowly developing relationship between Leif and Kwin (the two main characters). That too might be stormy.

(9)    ‘Glory Days’ by Bruce Springsteen

This is another rousing anthem relevant to the book. The song looks back to days of glory that took place for the young. Leif looks to glory in the future but not only are combatants killed they are sometimes maimed so badly they can never fight again. Will that be Leif’s fate too?

(10)    ‘Paperback Writer’ by the Beatles

I have to finish with this because many years ago I wanted to be a paperback writer but kept getting rejected, I loved listening to this song and still do.

Joseph Delaney



Arena 13 tour

With the sun trying hard to come out the first official session of the Arena 13 tour started to a captivated audience of years 3, 5 and 7 at Holy trinity primary school. They had previously been visited by Spook Johnson so they were all familiar with the books. I didn’t want to scare them too much so I left Arena 13 out of my talk. Again there were interesting questions so my publicist recorded some of my answers, which I have used to create an FAQ at the end of this blog.

In the afternoon I talked to children at Dartford primary who had been participating in a workshop with Spook Johnson of ‘Spooksteaching’ (he also happens to be my son). They do creative writing and make blood cakes, among other things – I think the blood cake recipe varies according to available ingredients.  I accidentally rested one of my books in a pool of it and it got covered in slime. I don’t think I will be tasting this one  .

Day two started at St Mary’s primary. This coaster in the staffroom was appreciated by my New Zealand publicist.  My talks are always when easier when I ask how many have read the Spooks series and all the hands go up. This was a very enthusiastic and lively audience, they had also previously met Spook Johnson so had a good introduction to the series. I further ensured their attention by a few strategically placed sounds interjected on my power point. The snarling feral lamia always  wakes people up.  

So far when I ask the children if they have liked the film they have all said they did – this deviates somewhat from the critics' appraisal!

At Langafael primary the next day, one observant girl noticed that in the film shot of the Seventh Son Jeff Bridges has his staff in the right hand. I think she is the first person to notice that. At Brent Primary on Day 3 my job was again made easier by the number of children who had read the books - over half the audience.   This event was well organised and the children very well prepared with great questions and more importantly a good introduction to the books. The sun was finally shining and to prove it there was a swimming lesson taking place outside the hall. The pool looked very inviting, even if it was only up to my knees.  It was here I was asked – if you had one minute how would you persuade me to read your book. I tried an answer but I might have to think more about that or brush up on my marketing skills. I was also asked how I would rate my books out of 10 – I have to admit that for various reasons of pressing deadlines or other commitments some might be better than others but I would rate them all! ( insert photo here of answering questions in class ) One girl even gave me a good idea based on my spider diagram (which I use when I get stuck – each leg represents a possible plot direction so I use the best leg I can find!). I am not going to say it though in case someone steals it. 

The tour finished at Oakfield Primary, where despite the heat the audience was very attentive and again had good questions.

Sweltering in the Manchester heat the Arena 13 roadshow continued into the second week.  This was my first week actually talking about Arena 13 as in the previous week the audiences were primary and as much as I like scaring people with my stories I don’t want to traumatise them.  Again there were good audiences. The older audiences require a little more coaxing before they will ask a question but when they do they are, generally, thoughtful and well considered. Thanks to Waterstones, Rhyme and Reason Sheffield and ‘The  Children’s Bookshop’, Huddersfield for organising these events. It was a good week although I think on Wednesday a boggart may have been present. At one school the power point had a mind of its own and went rushing through all the slides without my help and there were no trains running from Stockport to Manchester. I don’t know what I had done to offend it!


Q & A 

How long does it take to write a book?

The process takes a year but I am not working on it the whole time. The first five months I have the first version and it goes to my editor. While she is reading and thinking about it I start my next book. It will come back to me with recommended changes which I either make or challenge, twelve months later, after several edits and proof reading it is ready for the printer and eighteen months after the first word it is in the shops.

How did you feel at the end of the series?

Not sad, because it wasn’t really over. I was amazed that I had managed to do 13, when I started I thought I would do 3, then write an adult book about Tom and Alice as adults living in Chipping – as you can imagine their relationship would be stormy

How did you feel when the books got signed to make a movie?

Very excited, then increasingly less excited because it went on so long. After a bit I thought it would never get made, (only 5 out of every 100 books that are optioned actually get made).  When I visited the set in Vancouver, and saw Pendle City  I knew that it was a big departure from the books, so then it became a matter of how much?

Do you use a dictionary or the Thesaurus?

Yes I do, I always have one on hand to check that a word make sense. Mostly I use it to check the words that stretch to the edges of my natural vocabulary. If I have used the same word too often then I will use the thesaurus for another. I try to make my books accessible so I don’t want to use words that readers won’t understand.

Where do you write your books?

I used to write in one of my children’s old bedrooms but then I discovered if you have a laptop you can write anywhere. When the sun shines I am tempted to go out in the garden with a pad and pen. I also find when I travel I need to keep writing or I will forget so when I am on tour I always make sure I write a little bit every day.

Do you get bored writing?

Some days it doesn’t go well. If I do then I think there must be something wrong with my plot or character development – that is the time to pause and do something else and think about what to do.

Do you write in the weekends?

I realised when I became a full time writer I had lost the magic of weekends.  I used to write seven days a week but now, unless I have deadlines I try to have a weekend so I can get the magic of Fridays back when you have the whole weekend before you. 

Have you ever thought about writing something other than spooks?

I wrote a detective story once but didn’t finish it and I have lots of things I have started but not been published. Arena 13 of course is a different genre than Spooks.

Do you think of the book title first?

Quite often the title is the very last thing that is decided and often not just by me. For instance, I wanted to call the second book The Spook’s Bane but my then editor didn’t think children would understand Bane so we settled on Curse. More recently I wanted to call Arena 13 ‘Trigladius’ but after some discussion with my Editor we eventually settled on the current title. So while I may work with a title in my head or at least at the top of my electronic manuscript it is mostly not the chosen title.

Who is your favourite spook?

John Gregory but I suppose I now have to say Spook Johnson is my second favourite. I also like the way Bill Arkwright turned out even though he isn’t really a nice man.

Favourite Pendle Witches?

The Malkin Clan, especially Grimalkin.

Where did you get inspiration for Arena 13? 

 I first started writing Arena 13 in 1991,  which got me an agent and ultimately the Spook’s series. It was an interest in coding and desire to improve my inputting skills so I wrote the first draft of the story and to practice my typing , typed it into a computer and then decided it wasn’t bad so I sent it off to my agent. I have changed it a lot since that early draft.

What would you do differently given the chance to resign the film contract?

I would ask for script approval as part of the contract.

When will you retire?

Never – authors never retire, they just get dropped by their publisher.

What audience are you targeting?

8-12 was the original target audience but as the books have progressed they have become more violent and scary.  I think after books 3 and 4 they probably become YA. Depends if you get scared easily and don’t forget, the books started with a nightmare!