Showing posts with label General. Show all posts
Showing posts with label General. Show all posts

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Matthew

Missing you. 

Matthew - 1998 - 2015.

I've talked a lot about Matthew on this blog over the years and posted quite a few pictures, so it's only right I post a little something here. 

Matthew had cerebral palsy, but for someone with such profound disabilities, he had bags of personality. He couldn't talk, but loved listening to stories, and loved hearing people swear (especially his gran). He couldn't use his hands, but he loved hearing others drop things. And he couldn't stand or walk, but he took an enormous amount of pleasure from seeing others fall over.

Unfortunately, his CP got too much for him and Matthew passed away a few weeks ago (it's taken a long, long time to decide whether to put something on here). There is a huge hole in our lives now, but we're lucky to have had nearly seventeen years with the most fabulous kid I've ever known. 

No comments required - I just wanted to put a post on here. And here's a link to my favourite post, from the day when I took him for a walk in our mucky old wheelbarrow. Can't help posting the pic again here...




Saturday, 15 February 2014

Always wanted to do this

Class 4 had a visit from a few snakes a couple of weeks ago. I went in to take a few photos, but while I was there, got the chance to hold this fabulous carpet python. I've always loved snakes, and held a few smaller varieties, but never anything like this. Childhood dream come true!


Monday, 3 February 2014

Silly old fox, doesn't he know..?

There is such a thing as a Gruffalo! And today, I was it.

Possibly the worst Gruffalo costume ever.
 A few weeks ago I was asked if I would come down to the Foundation Stage of our school, dress up as the Gruffalo and read to the little'uns in Reception. I'm game for a laugh, so yeah, of course I would. I already had a home made costume from a few years ago when we came to work dressed as our favourite book character.

A few days later I was told there might be one or two parents present too. Last Friday, I was told it was going to be taking place in the hall, not the classroom. Today, five minutes before walking in, I found out why. The place was packed. About sixty kids, from Reception, plus morning and afternoon nursery, and all of their parents. There was a book stall, refreshments... I couldn't shake the feeling that they'd been keeping these little extra details quiet.

Anyway, when I got the shout, I ran in, roaring and waving my arms and let lunacy commence. We had a great time. I got most of the words right, avoided making any kids cry and only fell over once.

A big thanks to Sue D for asking me along. And yup, I'd do it all again. Great fun. :)

Monday, 30 December 2013

Stephen King ruined my bathtime

Carrie - her bathtime clearly spoilt too.
I've just spent the last half hour in the bath with Stephen King. I don't mean I was in there reading his latest book - he was actually there in the bath with me! And it happens too many times to be just the wacky coincidence he claims.

Most people think Stephen King lives in Maine, USA. Wrong. He actually lives in a council house in Penshaw, just a few streets down from me. In most cases, that should be enough for us never to even see each other, but here he was, once again, trying to sound all casual as he smiled and said, 'I was just passing.' Then he sticks his head in through the door, sniffs and his eyes light up. 'Are you running a bath?' He holds up a loofah and a soap-on-a-rope and adds, 'Care to share?'

A voice in my head is crying out to tell him to get lost. He can't keep coming round here like this. But he's been my icon since I was a kid, so I sigh a reluctant, 'Come on in, Stephen.'

Let me make things nice and clear - bathtime with your hero is not the fantasy you might think. For a start, he's like six foot four or something, which doesn't leave a lot of room for me, but because he's so mega-famous he insists he gets the good end, which means I have to sit hunched up with the taps in my back.

This time, it was too much, so I told him straight. 'You know something, Steve-O?' (he hates it when you call him that). 'If I make it big in 2014, I'm going to build an extension, get a bath fitted and a totally separate combi-boiler, and charge you the cost of the bloody gas!'

He just sneered and said, 'Like that's gonna happen.'

And this is what gets me. The only reason he comes around here is because he thinks we've got something in common. 'Come on, Col. You're a writer, I'm a writer. Why run two baths?'  But as soon as he's all relaxed and happy he tries to belittle me. Every single time.

I'm going to start taking showers instead. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Puppy Poppy Postpones Publishing

Well, how can you edit when you've got a 5 month pup on your keyboard demanding a walk?


Monday, 5 August 2013

HLTA Col

Came home from hols to find this.

I am now a black belt Teaching Assistant, capable of putting up bright displays in record time, straightening chairs to 1 tenth of a millimetre and sharpening pencils until they're really, really sharp.

On a more serious note, this marks a lot of hard work. Back in 2005, I was out of work. My son was in Year 1 at the local primary school and they needed parents to help out with a Walkwise Programme - helping children learn to cross the road. My wife suggested I go along, so I did and joined in for about 6 weeks. It was kind of fun, so I wrote up a CV and handed it in to the headteacher, telling her I'd like to do some voluntary work if she had any going. A few weeks later, I got a call asking me if I wanted to help out in Year 5. I can still remember the lesson - Miss Wardle teaching the cross pollination of flowers. I went back, two days a week for the next year. In the following year, I continued as a volunteer, but went to college too, to do a Teaching Assistant course. A year after that, I got a job. Over the past few years, I've done more and more teaching, so my head put me in for this HLTA thing. 
People complain that there aren't jobs out there. Well, maybe they're not falling off the trees, but if you look, and try, and actually knock on doors, you can find them. 

Same thing with writing. Put the work in, send it off, keep badgering those agents and editors and eventually, things start to happen.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

FCBG Conference 2013

The Federation of Children's Book Groups is a national organisation made up of volunteer parents, teachers and librarians who love children's books so much, they actively promote and introduce them to children in their local areas. Each year they have a conference. This year, I was lucky enough to be invited along.

Culford School - big, old, and probably haunted.

I was gobsmacked really, considering other writers included Melvin Burgess, Eoin Colfer, Michelle Paver and Marcus Sedgewick. Well, okay - they were on the main stage and my seminar was on the second floor in a haunted classroom, but it was still cool to be in the same place.

A snow storm battered the country this weekend, which made the drive up to the school postcard perfect. I even saw little deer-things. Like dogs on long legs, so I think they were deer, or deerlets, or something.

The driveway leading to Culford School

Still on the driveway to Culford School, passing a church.

The talks were fantastic. Gill Lewis even gave us a home-made animation, Sally Nichols sold the Black Death as an alternative to dystopian fiction and Melvin Burgess debunked the myth that YA novels are all negative, misery and issues.

Rachel Ward, Graham Marks and Melvin Burgess

I loved Emma Chichester Clark's amazing PlumDog blog (here's a link) which made me want to go out and get a dog (I really hope my kids aren't reading this). Liz Pichon was equally brilliant. The result of these two talks got me to buy a few pencils, come home and doodle - and thanks to a breakfast conversation with Pip from Bounce, I know exactly what I'm going to draw!

My own seminar went well. It covered time management, family stories, warts, blood splatters, acoustic guitar and the reason I'll never be a rock star.

To end this post, here's a photo of the toilet I found when I got lost. It was installed in the school back in 1905 to get ready for a Royal Visit and has since been referred to as the King's Toilet.

The King's Toilet - a 100 year old bog!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Magic of Facebook

When I was 10 or 11 years old, me and my best friend decided it would be a good idea to get well and truly lost. We walked for miles and ended up a wooded area on the far side of the West Park in South Shields (in reality, it wasn't that far, but in the days before mobile phones and having any real idea where we were, it was far enough). This is the only photo I've got of us at that age.

Me and Wardy in our first year at Harton Comp


We were mucking about in those trees, sliding down the mud slopes and climbing on the rocks down the bottom part of the bank when my friend just disappeared. I could hear him laughing, but no matter where I looked, I couldn't find him. Eventually, he lifted up a small curtain of ivy that was hanging over a rock. He'd been hiding in the space behind.

His name is Layton Ward - Wardy to me, back then - and I haven't seen him for over twenty years. The story of what he did that day stuck with me and ended up inspiring a good chunk of Clash. So much so, that I wrote about it in the Author's Note at the end of the book, not really knowing whether he'd ever see it.

I'm dead chuffed to say that now he has. He found me through Facebook, heard about the book and ordered it online. He also posted that photo of us in our first year at Comp - age 11!

Computers are ace!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Playstation, Scooters and Short Novels. Fight!!!

So the new Playstation has been announced, and that affects YA authors how..? Well, if you don’t know your audience, how do you expect to write for them? The PS4 is the first of the new generation consoles, machines with so much power the games look more like interactive movies. But is this really what modern kids are after?

Killzone: Shadow Fall on the PS4
Back in September, I appeared on Litopia After Dark with internet legend Frank Edward Nora. Frank is a modern day Samuel Pepys, recording his observations of humanity on thousands of podcast diaries. He is convinced that as technology advances, we’re going to be lost in a virtual work, unable to separate reality from the digital universe, and it looks like the PS4 marks the next stage of that development.

Scary stuff if you buy into it. But I don't, and here's why.

Personally, I am quite excited about the PS4, possibly because I’ve followed the rise of video games since the PONG of the seventies. I spent my youth spent playing arcade games, followed the development of early computers from the ZX81 to Atari ST and eventually found myself working as an artist on 3D virtual reality games.


But my kids are more interested in iPods and those mini app games, so much so that we have an XBOX 360 and widescreen HDTV gathering dust while they move an iPod left and right to roll a ball about the screen - spending chunks of spare time on games that have the most basic of 2D graphics. A Facetime call comes in, then suddenly it’s "helmets on" and they're all off to the skatepark with stunt scooters. In between stunts, they’re pulling out iPods and iPhones, filming each other, (or “doing edits”), updating Facebook and streaming video. They’re not lost in a virtual world at all; they’re merging modern technology with their fun, exciting, busy lives.

Jack, doing a flying tail-whip (whatever that is)
And that’s the problem. Teen lives are busy as hell and console games are far too demanding. The average console game costs around £50 new and takes a good 60 hours to play through. You can’t simply shove it in and shoot stuff, you have to go through the standard tutorial level, then build up skills and weapons as you go. App-games, on the other hand, are cheap (many free) and so simple, you just need to see a few seconds and you know exactly what to do. Take Temple Run or Fruit Ninja. Both free, both simple, free and bags of fun. Turn on, play. Friend calls. Grab your skooter, a can of coke and voooooom, you’re off, with the game in your back pocket.

That’s what YA authors have to compete with, not the PS4.

So, is there a literary equivalent? If certain games are getting simpler in order to attract attention, can the same be done with the novel?

When I was a teen, I was a terrible reader. I could never finish a full novel. But then the Fighting Fantasy series came along and I was hooked. It was reading, and a game, all in one. But best of all, each time I read, it felt like I’d reached the end of the story.

I’m not suggesting these make a return, but I would like to see more short novels for teenagers, rather than doorstops that seem to be the current trend. Books like The Hunger Games, Northern Lights, Gone or The Enemy would have scared me shitless when I was a teen, just by their sheer length, even though the content would have been spot on for my tastes. That’s probably why, back then, I read more James Herbert than Stephen King.

The bottom line is that teens have so many easily accessible, bite-sized bits of fun screaming for their attention that they don’t have time for long games, let alone novels. The publisher that realises this, and captures the attention of the iPod crowd is going to make a lot of money. Maybe it’ll be another kind of adventure book, maybe it will be compact novellas or a modern take on chapbooks. I don’t know, but I’ve got a hunch that a new wave of short, exciting and accessible titles could be one way to grab this young, exciting, and very busy audience.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Caught In A Mosh

I went to my first rock concert when I was 14 years old. I saw Motorhead at Newcastle City Hall. A few months back, I noticed they were not only still touring, but coming back to the City Hall, so I decided to look for tickets. The only seat available was the exact one I had 28 years ago, up on the balcony - D13. Too weird - I had to buy it!

But it gets better. The support act were going to be mega-thrash gods, Anthrax. A band I used to be crazy about in my teens. Oh, and it gets even betterer - the original singer, Joey Belladonna, is back with the band and they've got a new album out. So I went out and bought me first CD for god-knows how many years. Worship Music is just incredible. I've listened to it pretty much non-stop.

As for the gig itself, it was full of ageing rockers, but there were a few young faces there, and a handful of kids too, which was great to see. The biggest difference was the atmosphere. When I last saw Anthrax, we were all going mental, jumping and moshing all over the place. But this time, that was pretty much the first two rows only. Everyone else was standing in their correct place, holding up iPhones.

Anthrax were the better band. Joey still sounds amazing, but Motorhead were beyond loud and into the category of sheer pain. Very laid back and cool, no matter how fast they played. Here's a few pics.
Anthrax
Scott Ian - Anthrax
Lemmy - Motorhead
Motorhead
Phil Campbell - Motorhead
Lemmy - Motorhead

Thursday, 30 August 2012

So proud...

... of our Cameron. He was quoting big chunks of The Young Ones to keep Matthew happy on our way to the hospital this morning (for an op pre-assessment). He knows most of Bambi - the episode where they go on University Challenge. One of the best.

And it's got Motorhead in, so even better!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My Big Day Out

I was invited down to London for two small events organised by Bounce. The first was an informal lunch with a few (very important) booksellers. The second was an event at Foyles, a fantastic book heaven on Charing Cross Road, where I met reviewers and key bloggers.

Me, holding an invisible balloon.
This was very relaxed and chatty, and I tried as well as I could not to go off on tangents - every now and again getting a subtle cough from Non, and then a clear, 'Colin! Tangent!' I managed to get back to Arabesque and answer a few questions.

The main ones were to do with strong language in teen fiction and the way I chose to end Arabesque. I'm not going to give any spoilers about that, but to give a taste of what I said at Foyles, the end is not meant to be a cliffhanger (I'm not planning a sequel, at least, not at the mo), but reflect the book's opening. However, I also felt it important to add that the YA books I enjoy the most don't tie up all of their loose threads. Life isn't like that, and as I like to write about teens being thrust into a cruel and violent adult world, it wouldn't be fair to have a lovely, happy ending where everything turns out just dandy. To illustrate this, I told a personal story of my uncle's tool shed, and what I found in his vice after he died.

Life can be shit, and death sucks too. I guess we're stuck with both.

Book Signing - this one was an
Arabesque poster for Sister Spooky
As for the strong language - I could blog all day about this, but I want to save as much as I can for Litpopia After Dark on the 16th. I'll post a link for anyone who misses that, and do a full blog on strong language shortly after.

At the end, I got a chance to ask questions of our bloggers, and how valued they feel - if they do at all. I hope they do, because usually, even when I find a book that I want to buy, I tend to hang fire and check reviews first, and I find myself going back to the same bloggers. So keep at it! Bloggers are mint!

Between the two events, I managed to do a quick run, around London, snapping as many photos as I could.

Meeting local celebs
At the Tate Modern
Cool phone box near Foyles
Chinatown at night

When we left Foyles, I went with Non, Matt and Caroline (two mega-librarians) for my first experience of a Japanese restaurant.

And this morning, on my way home, I used all of the photos I took to make a Powerpoint of my Big Day Out for my youngest. So much more fun that just telling him.

On the train, making my Powerpoint for Cameron

All in all - a mighty fine visit. Thanks to everyone involved in organising the day, and everyone who came along. It was a blast.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Event: Colin and Non at Foyles

Several events coming up. The first is Foyles in London. I'll be there with my editor, (and YA author too!!) Non Pratt, talking about YA authory stuff. - okay, that's not selling it very well...  (coughs) I'll be telling horrible stories, juggling knives and trying not to make the audience sick (like I did at Shiney Row library :o))

Click here for the FB page. 
ARABESQUE event at FOYLES

So er... come along. It'll be brilliant!!!

ADDED: Erm.. well I tried a quick juggling practice in the garden. Might not be the best idea.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Advance Copy Arrives

This probably seems a strange thing to do, but for anyone who dreams of being published, this is one of those key moments when the dream becomes a reality.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury died last week, on the 5th June, age 91. The news knocked me because Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books I've picked up so many times, meaning to buy, but has always remained on my "to read" pile. So the news caused me to get it and finally read it.

Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman. But in this world, a fireman's job is to locate and burn books, which usually means burning the entire house - even the owner.

The language is a bit of a hurdle. It is so colourful and loaded with metaphors that, at times, it strangles the story, and I had to struggle to get back on track. But I persevered and the story opened up. It's not the best novel I've ever read, but it certainly made me think, and that is the reason for this post.

More than anything, Bradbury's view of the future made me think about Facebook and Twitter and the way they can soak up huge amounts of time. In the story, books have been outlawed, but only because society has naturally moved away from them, wanting more immediate entertainment and boiled down versions of stories. Most people have huge, wall sized TVs, some have all four walls converted, but the only programmes are endless feeds of chatter of family and friends - and none of it having any real substance. The result is that they have no time for independent thought. They don't think; they don't question. All they care about is that they are entertained and kept happy. They have no idea they are being controlled, don't realise how doped up they are, don't even realised that other nations hate this future America and there is a war going on right above their own heads.

But Montage begins to question. Montag wants to know why he has to burn books. He realises that there is something wrong about subduing an entire nation like this, turning everyone into mindless zombies.


But what are the Facebook and Twitter addicts? There are too many times I've got up on a morning to write, only to waste all of that time reading feeds of people I don't know talk about stuff I don't care about. I've even found myself responding, laughing and nodding when people post anti-Facebook/Twitter messages, or merging the names as a parody of what an utter waste of time it is... and yet the first thing I did this morning was check for notifications and any new posts.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Prometheus - short review, no spoilers

Back in 1979, Ridley Scott shocked the world with Alien, a film that burst science fiction out of its shell and splattered horror all over the sci-fi genre. The movie remains a classic, and although the sequels were box office successes, they never managed to capture the disturbing atmosphere of brooding horror that Ridley Scott gave us. And so, with Prometheus promising to be a prequel, and directed by Ridley Scott himself, it poses the question if he work the magic himself.

Short answer: yes he can.

I'm not going to give an outline of the story because I went into the cinema knowing this was a prequel to Alien and nothing more. It started slowly, with breathtaking scenery and shots that give a fantastic sense of scale. Unlike the splatterfest action sequels to Alien, Prometheus offers a gradual, cumulative and atmospheric horror on a sci-fi canvas. There are moments that are genuinely creepy and scary rather than holding out for shocks and jumps (although there are a couple of these, delivered very well).

The casting isn't fantastic, and I totally disagree with other reviewers who say that Michael Fassbenger, who plays an android, steals the show. I thought he was overly robotic - especially when you compare him to the creepier, much more lifelike android, Ash, played by Ian Holm in the original Alien. And while I understand that the point of Ash being humanlike was the shock revelation, Fassbenger was so OTT that he might as well have a flashing light, arms held out straight while he repeats, "I AM A RO-BOT"

Noomi Repace, however, plays a belter as Dr Elizabeth Shaw. I'm dying to give examples and talk about scenes but daren't. Just go see it. Wooden android aside, Prometheus was otherwise brilliant. A fantastic prelude, but it also stands on it's own merit as a damn fine sci-fi thriller.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Walking with a Kindle

There's a big country park near me. My son was over there at the skate park and wanted to show me some new trick on his scooter - "dropping the extension," as he put it. So I had a walk over. Usually when I go for walks I take an MP3 player, which kind of ruins the tranquility of the moment. You can't really appreciate birdsong and the "baaas" of newborn lambs with Slayer blasting in your lugs.

So I left it behind. Instead, I picked up my Kindle. I don't even know why, because the idea of walking and reading seems stupid, not only for the opportunity of comedy accidents (walking into lampposts, falling down open manhole covers, etc) but it can't be exactly easy, can it?

Surprisingly, it was. Once I was over there, the obstacles and danger from the nearby road had gone, so I got through pages and pages as I made my way to the skate park, and more on the way back.

So after dinner I tried the same trick again. This time, my walk was to go up to Penshaw Monument the back way. There's an old country track up there, used by dog walkers and horse riders. (see below).This time, success was mixed. I didn't bump into trees or lampposts and I didn't fall down any open manhole covers...

but after a splodge through the biggest mound of horseshit, it's going to take a while to clean my trainers.

:o)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Penshaw Bowl

We have our own way of celebrating Easter up here. We all climb up Penshaw Hill and roll eggs down for the Penshaw Bowl competition. The event is run by Sun FM. They section off an area on the hill and get the kids to line up and roll their eggs in age groups. It used to take place at the top of the hill, but due to erosion, it's now about halway up. Still a climb though - especially if you're in a wheelchair.

We tried to push our Matthew up there two years back, but the hill was too steep, so he couldn't take part. This year I tried the back way, which is a slightly easier incline along a bumpy country trail. We got there, but then had to slide his wheelchair down a ridiculously steep slope to get to the Bowl area.

We made it! And once the younger ages had had their go, Matthew got his. His egg did really well. It just kept rolling and rolling. This is Matthew with his prize. And me, knackered!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Eggcellent!

I've been meaning to do a parent entry to our school's Easter Egg competition for years. I work there as a TA and I still have a son there. This year I went for it. Didn't win. But got a creme egg for entering.
Cameron didn't win either. He's been studying blood, bones and body bits at school (Y4) so he did the heart and brain (with blood!)

Mind you, there were hundreds to judge and some were incredible.

I might start planning for next year.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Swearing in YA fiction

Does strong language have an impact on the commercial success of a book?
There is a big difference between dialogue and transcribed speech. When people talk, in the right environment, every other word can be expletive and no one cares. Usually, this is because the swearing in speech is often used as a wild-card adjective to save having to think of anything more suitable. With teens, there is the added whammy that bad language can define independence. It becomes such a prominent part of their language that some kids can speak in nothing other than swear words and still get their point across.
In a book, that would be awkward to read and ultimately dull. Some writers of adult fiction suffer from this; their novels are so peppered with profanity that you end up having to skim through repetitive crap to get to the story. That bugs the hell out of me and usually puts me off.
So when is it appropriate?
A carefully placed f-bomb can have real impact in certain situations. Rather than just anger, attitude or strength, they can define a specific turning point for a character, their failure, or sudden confidence. There are only a few instances in Clash, and I battled with each one, deciding whether they were justified. If not, they went.
The alternative use of bad language is to show realism - because in the real world, villains tend to swear. The problem with this is that if you have villains in several scenes, you need to be consistent in their language. The single f-bomb no longer works, because that first instance wasn't a revelation; it wasn't a surprise. So if your baddy swears in chapter two, you need to follow through wherever else they appear. If you do that, the f-count rockets up and you end up wondering if this is going to cause a problem. Book sellers can refuse to stock it if they don't consider it suitable for teens, as can libraries and schools, parents...
But can you have a strong, violent thriller without bad language?
Two writers come immediately to mind. Suzanne Collins and Lee Child.
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, a book that’s chock-a-block with childhood violence and murder, but has no bad language. Is that because it’s a children’s novel? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop it selling to adults. The three books in the trilogy top the ebook charts as well as paperback sales. Does a lack of bad language hamper the story? Well... in places I can’t help thinking Katniss would react a bit more strongly.
But Lee Child is something else. Lee Child writes commercial thrillers for adults. His books are violent, include murder, imprisonment, brutality, violence, rape and paedophilia with a main character who is strong, moody, and at times explosive. But no bad language. Nothing. I actually reached the end of the first novel (actually, I read #11 first) before realising. So in that case, it worked perfectly well.
But why? Do these authors feel like I do, that too much bad language is repetitive and boring, or that too little makes it obvious that it has been toned down? Or is it a commercial strategy? It might not make a difference with adult thrillers, but I can't help wondering if the Hunger Games was splattered with swear words, would it still be the massive success it is?
I don’t know. All I do know is that Arabesque goes to proof in a couple of weeks... and I need to decide if the strong language I've got so far is essential to plot, or a bullet in the foot.
What do you think? Should YA novels have strong language, or can you maintain the illusion without?