Mars Mission: Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer 3

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Kindle edition published on Amazon 14th December

‘No-one really likes their kids being dragged off to alien worlds by mega-intelligent super-computers in galactically advanced flying saucers. Especially if they’re late home for tea.’

Danny Chaucer leaves his house one morning expecting a nice normal day out with his friends Nat and Sandy, not to mention BOB the hyper-intelligent but annoyingly smug cockney computer. (If you can call a trip on a flying saucer a normal day out, that is.)

But things quickly take a turn for the worse. For a start, why is creepy Captain Frost plotting with oily bully Chad Wilson? Of course Frosty-knickers is still after the saucer – but what exactly is her plan? And is Sandy up to something as well?

Then before long DISC’s crew are racing across the solar system on a stupidly dangerous mission. What with killer radiation, poisonous air, a monster dust-storm, a slightly depressed Martian rover and an unexpectedly troublesome hologram, it soon becomes clear that being late home for tea could be the least of Danny’s problems …

The third book in the Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer series is available now as a Kindle edition from Amazon (links: UK / US) and coming soon (January 2017) in paperback/ hardback.

Moon Zoom: Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer #2

Moon Zoom cover Amazon 1dec15

The saucer’s back – and it’s about to whisk Danny and Natalie off on another awesome adventure!

BOB – the super-computer with a personality as big as its brain – needs more Moon Zoom, the mineral that powers the saucer’s anti-grav drive.

The only problem is, it’s locked away in the top-secret Ganymede Institute. To get at it, Danny and his friend Nat will have to deal with flying scooters, obnoxious classmates and a big bad missile. Not to mention the sinister Captain Frost in hot pursuit.

And there’s only one place to get even more Moon Zoom (no prizes for guessing where). But when the saucer’s crew find themselves stranded, Danny realises that only an incredible act of bravery can save them …

Kindle edition now available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk – and FREE this weekend (5/6 December). Reviews / comments very welcome.

 

Horrid Henry: An apology

horridhenry

Forgive me, o gods of literacy, for I have sinned. This is my confession.

About three years ago, my (then) eight-year-old son began getting into Horrid Henry. I don’t know how much the HH phenomenon is known outside the UK, so for the benefit of the blissfully ignorant: Horrid Henry features in a series of children’s books which have, by any measure, been a major publishing success story. They have been bestsellers, and have subsequently adapted into a TV series and a movie.

The books belong to a genre we might call gross-lit. The eponymous Henry is, to put it mildly, an anti-hero. He gets into trouble all the time, shows less than zero respect for his parents, teachers or any other adults, and hates his impeccably behaved brother Perfect Peter. He farts, belches, schemes and whines with total abandon. He is, in short, a grown-up’s nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong – I can see Henry’s attraction, especially to his peer group. He’s lively, rebellious and funny. And Perfect Peter is rather irritating. But I really didn’t like the books. For one thing, I didn’t think they were especially well written or original. The naughty, rebellious schoolboy character is nothing new – think Dennis the Menace or Just William, to give just two examples – and in my opinion he’s been portrayed with more wit and style before. The fact that all the child characters are always referred to by their alliterative nicknames – as well as Horrid Henry and Perfect Peter, there is also Moody Margaret, Vomiting Vera and many more – was a joke that quickly wore thin for me.

And Henry himself, I just found unbearably annoying. He’s staggeringly selfish He’s the sort of child who sucks up a disproportionate amount of effort and attention, to the detriment of the quieter, better behaved kids around them. He was certainly not anything like my idea of a good role model, much less a hero.

What’s worse is – and this might make me sound incredibly old-fashioned – there’s little sign of a moral compass in those books. There are too often no apparent consequences to Henry’s behaviour. He’ll do something selfish and bad, upsetting the people around him – and just get away with it.

So what did I do? (This is the confession part.) One day, I took all my son’s Horrid Henry books away. I didn’t think they were a good influence, or good literature. There are better books out there, I said; read those, not these.

Right. Rant over. I am of course conscious that I am not the target audience for these books. I am also aware that the average nine-year-old boy really does find farting and belching quite funny. Horrid Henry is obviously and unashamedly aimed at children of a certain age, and boys in particular. The books are also carefully and skilfully written to be easily readable for their age group, a quality which, as I reflected on in my last post, is both important and something that doesn’t happen by accident.

Three years on from my Horrid Henry book burning spree (OK, that’s dramatic license: I didn’t burn them, I just gave them to a charity shop), I know better now. My son has never been a great reader. He often takes scant interest in the written word. He doesn’t find many books he really likes. When he does, it tends to be non-fiction rather than stories – which is fine, as long as he reads, but I wish he loved fiction the way I always have. I have tried to introduce so many new books to him, with distinctly mixed results.

But he liked Horrid Henry books. So why on earth did I take them from him? What sort of fool was I? OK, I didn’t much like them. I still don’t. But they aren’t that bad – and they’re books. And if he reads them, he’ll go on to read other, different things. I can still introduce him to other options, without taking away the things he’s already enjoying.

Today I read an article that reminds us of the obvious: if children find books they love to read, then – guess what? – they’ll read more. And more; with all the intellectual, emotional and educational benefits that we know go along with that.

Now my son is allowed to read Horrid Henry again, along with pretty much anything else he wants to. It’s far more important that he learns to associate reading with pleasure and freedom, rather than only reading what I personally (and subjectively) consider to be good literature. In any case, he’s far, far more likely to come across unsuitable or harmful material on TV, or especially online, than he is within the pages of a children’s book.

So welcome back Horrid Henry, (almost) all is forgiven. Thank you for showing my son that reading can be fun after all. Just … just try to behave a bit better from now on, will you? Set a more positive example? No? …. Oh well. As you were, then.

 

Challenging Children: Long words or short?

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As a writer of children’s books, I’m always concerned about whether my prose is pitched at about the right level for its intended readership. You know: are any of the words too long, sentence construction too complex, cultural references above their heads, subject matter too ‘adult’?

This is compounded by the fact that reading ability varies so much. Well it does for adults too, of course, but when your target audience is as narrow as 8-12-year-olds or thereabouts then you don’t have to be especially off-target to miss it. If the bull’s-eye is an averagely competent ten-year-old reader, then your book may be beyond a struggling eight-year-old (at least without adult help), yet also not testing enough for a high-flying near-teen. (Then again, advanced seven-year-olds and some young teens might still be within range.)

For this reason (as for so many others) the sharp eyes of beta-readers and editors are invaluable. Then again, I’m a firm believer that kids shouldn’t be patronised, and that there’s also scope to stretch them a little. Indeed, surely that’s part of the value of reading. If they never come across new words, for instance, how will their vocabulary grow?

An example: an editor of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer picked up on the word ‘sumptuous’, used to describe an especially spectacular starry sky beheld by Danny one night. Would your younger readers know what that means, they wondered?  Might a simpler word be used in its place?

I should emphasise that I did take that editor’s advice probably 90% of the time; and even when I didn’t, I always thought carefully before rejecting it. I’m certainly not suggesting they were wrong to ask the question. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t. But ultimately, the author themselves has to make the decision. The editor’s opinions are always to be respected (you’d be wasting both their time and yours if you didn’t) but they are never the last word.

In the end, sumptuous stayed. I love that word. It’s so, well … sumptuous. An extravagant, opulent, overflowing kind of word; but crucially, for me it was the very best one for the job in that particular sentence.  Another place, another time, I might have agreed with the editor and changed it.

Of course, as I said above, it’s a matter of balance. Too many new, long or challenging words might discourage the young reader. The prose should be accessible; and after all it’s there to tell the story, not get in the way, jump up and down and shout, ‘look at me, aren’t I clever!’. Too many pauses to consult the dictionary are bound to obstruct the reading experience and prevent the child’s full immersion in the adventure.

It’s a similar thing with sentences. I tend to keep them short and simple more often than not. But the odd longer, more complex sentence is no bad thing, and the variety should serve to make the text more interesting – and, yes, challenging. In that sense, it’s little different from adult fiction.

If the young reader gains in knowledge and ability through your book, that’s a wonderful thing. I’d love to think that some kid, somewhere, might one day say, ‘Dad, thanks, that dinner was sumptuous!‘, just because they read Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer.

 

Short story: First Contact

First Contact front page

I’ve written a kind of short prequel to Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer to put on the book’s website and possibly use for publicity purposes. I enjoyed writing it; it’s the first short story I’ve produced for a while (probably more than a year – I’m not even completely sure how long it’s been) and I’ve missed them. Novels are so time-consuming, but I hope I can get back to doing some more short fiction before too long.

Well here it is: First Contact.

 

 

It’s nearly landed …

DCFS back DCFS front

OK, it’s been available on Amazon for about a month now, but now the print edition of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is almost here. My publisher Albury Books sent me pics of the proof copies today … I haven’t actually seen it ‘in the flesh’ yet, but that should be any day now. Can’t wait. E-books are great and all, but nothing quite beats the feeling of holding your own printed book in your own hands.

And that’s it – possibly my shortest ever blog post! I’m now off to send a few more review requests … a writer’s work is never done, even when they’re not actually writing …

 

A good day to publish a sci-fi book?

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Well, Star Wars Day seemed a good a day as any. Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is now available on Amazon (links: UK, US), initially as a Kindle edition only, hopefully to gain a few reviews and help with the marketing. The paperback edition, along with availability in other channels including the iBook Store, will follow in the coming weeks.

So … after all those drafts, all that re-writing, my third novel has finally seen the light of day. It’s always a special moment. Not that I will pause long to savour it – there’s still so much to do, not least the second book in the series which is currently still stuck in first draft. And the third, not yet beyond outline form. And … a writer’s work is never done. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into – but it’s worth it.

 

 

Tummies, helicopters, and why I’m a proud dad

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The other day my six-year-old son William proved he’s a real chip of the old block, by spontaneously coming up with a flash fiction piece. May I proudly present (spell-checked by me but otherwise all his own work), The Super Tummy:

The Super Tummy

Once upon a time, there was a super tummy. It could fly and scare things off. It was like the Tardis. People went in it to save their lives so it was good and it made many people happy.

He did it for years and years, and one day the King went in him and he was happy. They had fun together and a dalek came but the tummy saved them and they lived happily ever after.

Kind of surreal, right? I reckon there’s some deep metaphysical meaning in this piece, though superficially it might read like an especially deranged example of Doctor Who fan fiction.

But then, a couple of days later, he got together in with his ten-year-old brother George and produced the following collaboration, The Weird Helicopter. From this piece I learnt three things: first, George has been learning about adjectives and adverbs at school and encouraged to include as many as possible; second, William’s creative influence remains evident (he loves helicopters); and third, George was still mad at me after an earlier conversation (see if you can guess what that was about):

The Weird Helicopter

There once was a light helicopter that liked buzzing around rapidly. Then he would lovingly play with his friends (Ben, Leon & Sophie). However, one day when he was flying through the interesting forest to meet his wonderful friends, his annoying dad stopped him and he did his homework.

So my kids are writers! Well apart from my twelve-year-old daughter, who’s convinced that everything I do is embarrassing. Still, two out of three’s not bad.

 

First draft blues

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The trouble with dishing out advice is that you kind of feel you should practice what you preach. If you’ve visited this blog before you may have read my exhortation to ‘whack out’ the first draft of a book. It won’t be great, in fact it will probably be a mess, but you’ve got to start somewhere and that first draft just has to get written.

Well I still believe that, but I’m currently about halfway (I think) through the first draft of the sequel to Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. I’m planning a three-book (initially) series, and I’ve started work on the second book even though the first isn’t yet finished. (The first book has gone through four drafts, but I’m now getting more feedback and going for a fifth, figuring that the book can only get better as a result, I hope.)

And it’s been a bit of a struggle. I love writing but at times it’s a bit more love–hate. I find the first draft the toughest one. Sure, re-drafting and editing is hard work too, but it’s somehow easier for me when there’s something to work with already there, even if some of the changes are pretty extensive and often involve adding whole new chunks as well as excising others.

Perhaps that’s the point: the first draft is the rawest, purest act of creation, of creating something from nothing; and that process of wresting words, sentences, paragraphs, dialogue, plots, characters, from brain to screen can seem painfully difficult at times. It always seems to demand more of me than any other part of the writing process.

It also takes persistence, especially when you can clearly see the flaws in what you’re producing. Because although I know the first draft is inevitably going to fall short, that knowledge makes it harder to plough on. At least in the re-drafting/editing I can see how the book is improving, and it’s immensely satisfying to see that happening. But when I’ve spent an hour hammering down a chunk of prose for the first time, and then look back and realise it’s a bit ‘meh’, that can be more than a little de-motivating.

This can lead me to break my own rules about splurging it all out and worrying about quality in the second draft. I do find myself back-tracking a bit at times and making some minor alterations, as well as fixing some of the more annoying typos. (If I type ‘starts’ instead of ‘stars’, or ‘this’ instead of ‘his’, many more times I swear I may cut my hands off.) But then rules should sometimes be broken. I don’t see the point in writing total garbage. (Partial garbage, sure.) My first drafts are always going to be somewhat dodgy, because I know if I tried to fix everything at once I’d never get anywhere, but I need to see something good in what I’m producing.

What makes it even worse for me is that the Danny Chaucer books, being children’s / middle-grade level, aren’t very long. The first book is around 30,000 words, and for the second I’m aiming for about the same. How long can it take to write a 30,000-word book? I’ve written longer (BASIC Boy is twice that length), and adult novels are typically much longer. I really admire anyone who writes a decent 80–100,000 word novel. That takes some effort.

But I’m forging ahead, slowly but surely – though slower than I’d like and not entirely sure of myself. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t keep going with something I completely hate. I’ve chosen to write, and I’ve chosen to write this book at this time, so I shouldn’t keep belly-aching about it. No-one’s holding a gun to my head. Actually that would be pretty motivating, but in its absence I keep reminding myself of a few things when it comes to first drafts, to help me keep going:

  1. It’s just got to be done. I bet a lot of would-be writers fall at this first hurdle, and that’s a shame.
  2. All writers’ first drafts are dodgy, even the really famous and successful ones. It’s part of the process.
  3. If you can already see some of the faults, then that’s great. You can’t fix them if you can’t see them. (And if you can’t see them, don’t worry, you will – or otherwise someone else will show you if you ask.)
  4. Find you own method and pace. You might be a ‘slap down the words as quickly as possible and fix the problems later’ type; or need to spend more time to get more right first time. Both are fine if they work for you. And your approach might evolve over time, or vary between projects. Just don’t get too bogged down – get it finished.
  5. Finally, remember that you’ve got plenty of time, and subsequent drafts, to improve the work, And there will be plenty of good to improve, not just faults to rectify. The first draft is the necessary – if often difficult – first step along the road to a book you can be proud of.

So with the above in mind, I should probably stop writing this and go back to writing DCFS2.