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!