Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Darke Ages Are Almost Here!

I suppose Christmas must have intervened. And New Year. And all the alcohol-fuelled, food-fired frenzy that two festive weeks in the Republic of Ireland can deliver. When i left, publication still seemed an age away. I arrived back at 4 o clock this morning, swearing that I was going to go on the wagon, go on a diet and go for a cycle ride every day, until I had shed some of the blubber that my recent bout of hedonism had bequeathed me.

The house looked just the same as we'd left it, only a bit cleaner, because somebody had been in to dust while we were away.

After a few hours much-needed sleep I got up to discover that I had 179 emails to wade through; that the Manchester Evening News had included an article about me and unfortunately, had used an old archive photograph that made me look like a drooling pyschopath; that Random House had sent me the podcasts I shot in London not so very long ago (much less psychopathic in those!) that they are also working on the Seb D dedicated website... and that I was but one day away from THE BIG ONE.

The big one, you ask? Yeah, you know, January 4th, release day!

And I have to be honest, it feels a bit... well, anti-climatic. I mean, where are the brass bands? The cheering crowds? The... bright pointy things?

True, I have various events and signings arranged for further down the line; and a few people have phoned today to say that they saw the interview in the MEN and THAT psychopatic photo, but tomorrow... well, tomorrow, Grace and I will take the train into Manchester and wander around the bookshops looking for a familiar cover. And if we don't see it... well, we haven't come up with a plan B yet. If we DO see it, I suppose I'll get her to photograph me standing by a stack of books giving the thumbs up or something equally mundane.

And... that will be it. All those years of slog and hard work, comes down to a day when the book goes on sale to the public and it's down to them to decide if it's going to be a hit or a miss. Or I suppose I should say, it's down to YOU.

So here's the thing. Buy the book. PLEASE! It's really, really good. Honest.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sign Here Please!

Waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room with a slight hangover and remembering that you've agreed to sign a few copies of your novel isn't the best feeling in the world, particularly when you remind yourself that today you're signing over 2000 of them and you'll be required to do the same next week.

But of course, as a writer you want to do everything you can to help the book along, which is why I and my trusty assistant Lauren, find ourselves alighting from a taxi outside the TBS warehouse in Colchester at nine AM prompt.

I'd just been proving a point. Lauren had never heard of Rita Tushingham (see previous posting) and I said, 'that's because you're just a young thing.' And I point to the taxi driver, who looks around 60 years of age and I say, 'I bet you've heard of her, haven't you?' And he says, 'No,' which throws me a bit, until he explains that he had a heart attack a few years back and lost his entire memory of everything that happened before it. Which is like something from a movie script but amazingly, true. Lauren and I are a bit nervous that he won't remember where the warehouse is, but happily, he does.

Anyway, into TBS we go and I'm ushered into a room and I nearly have a heart attack on the spot, because there's a stack of books in there with the aproximate directions of an articulated lorry (click on my web site if you want to see what that looks like- but remember, there's the same amount of books again out of the frame!) and there's nothing for it but to make a start.

Now to be fair to the lovely staff at TBS, they did everything they could to make it more bearable - comfy chair, supplies of coffee, juice and water, comprehensive selection of pens - but signing that many books is like being in detention for something really bad, like say, murdering somebody.

Here's how it works. Somebody sits at your left and passes you a book, open to the frontispiece. You sign and pass the book to somebody on your right, who then passes it to a couple of other people who pack it into a box and prepare it for sending away. You sign and sign and sign until your wrist aches and your back aches and every so often somebody says, 'That's 200 or that's 500,' and you just keep going until even your ears are aching and you try and fill the time with inane conversation, but what happens is you start making mistakes.

Some of the interesting variations I got on my name included Philip with two L's, Philip Prince, Page Caveney, Prince Philip and even (rather worryingly) Philip Pullman! (I think we were discussing one of his books at the time).

I am reminded of Guy Fawkes and his signature before and after he was tortured and I can't help but notice that mine has followed a similar trajectory. They time me at 4 seconds per signature, which I'm told is about average. 'That Chris Ryan can do one in two seconds, ' somebody tells me and I point out that he was in the S.A.S.

There's a break for a delicious lunch "The Dickens" (the meals are all named after authors) - succulent pieces of fillet steak on a mouthwatering rosti base with caramelised onions - and then it's back in the saddle and if it was hard doing it in the morning, it's even worse in the afternoon.

Finally, finally, it is all over and I am able to slink away, through the gathering press of friday afternoon humanity, secure in the knowledge that I will be doing exactly the same thing again in 7 days time! Ah, the joys of publication...

And before anybody asks, no, I can't use a rubber stamp!

Party Animals

'Would you like to come to the Random House Christmas party?' they asked me. Hey, is the Pope a Catholic?
So there I was, Thursday December 7th, walking along the street to my destination, looking at plaques saying things like, 'Lord Pilkington Smythe was born here in 1887' and who do I see coming along the street towards me? Only Rita Tushingham!

Now, I appreciate that people of a certain age will be saying, 'Wow, Rita Tushingham!' while those under a certain age will be looking blank and saying 'Rita Who?' Let me just say that Rita was one of the brightest stars of 60's Brit-cinema and her lead role in Tony Richardson's A Taste Of Honey alone, would qualify her for superstar status. I once wrote a little poem about Rita. It goes like this.

As I was rushing home
through Rusholme
in the rush hour.
I didn't see Rita Tushingham
rushing home,
but if I had
I would be glad.
For there's none more neater
than our Rita.

So I took a liberty, pretended I knew her and had a nice little chat with Rita, before going on in to the party. I didn't mention the poem, in case she thought I was a dangerous maniac or something.

The venue was incredibly swanky, to be honest, all cut glass chandeliers and parquet floors. I was literally the first person there, but within minutes the place was filling up and my goodness, just look who it was filling up with! I recognised (and in many cases, chatted happily with) the likes of Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Wilson, Jonathan Stroud, Keith Grey, Dean Carter, Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell, Joe Delaney, Sam Enthoven... and a chap who looked exactly like Hugh Fernly Whittingstall but wasn't. Luckily, I'd actually read books by some of these people and when I was introduced to them, nobody looked at me and said, 'who the hell are you?' which was a relief.

And then, what a surprise, who do I bump into but Steve Webb, from Manchester, who once came to the Writers Group and who I last saw at a Society Of Authors meeting. And I knew of course that he was an author/illustrator but hadn't realised he was with Random House. Weird! We stood there and talked about the wonder of it all, two Manc scallies in amongst the quality.

Then it was time to head in the direction of the nearest pub and the party really began...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Odds and Ends

On the 1st of November, I went down to London to meet some independent publishers. Despite a bit of a mix-up over the destination, everything went well and it was heartening, after such a long time in the wilderness, to meet so many people who were so clearly 100% behind Sebastian Darke. Also there was Markus Zusak, author of the truly heartbreaking The Book Thief, which I was lucky enough to read in proof form, some time ago. I couldn't get over how young he was. His book speaks with such authority about the war years, and I'd expected some crusty old fellow in tweeds but it transpires, its all based on the stories he was told as a child, by his parents. Read it if you get the chance, it's quite simply brilliant.

I'm still working on A Buffalope's Tale, which is Max's story in his own words. It's going very well (I think!) I'm currently reading The Kite Runner (another heartbreaking story) and meanwhile, a copy of Powder Monkey by Paul Dowswell is waiting patiently at the top of the pile beside my bed. I sometimes think that we writers actually begrudge time reading other people's work, but it's important to do it, all the same.

Any spare moments involve me messing around with GarageBand (which I've had for ages but have only recently discovered) and watching movies. I finally got to see The Departed, the new Martin Scorcese, which was certainly blistering stuff and shows him back at the top of his game. I was entranced by one of the songs on the soundtrack which sounded like The Pogues only more so. The band in question is The Dropkick Murphys (great name!) who it turns out have been around for a long time and have amassed an extensive back catalogue, much of which is available on itunes. Shipping Out To Boston is a good place to start. Cracking track, really raw, great stuff.

Publication for Sebastian Darke is now set for January 4th - oh yes and Waterstones have just placed an order for 3000 hardbacks. So clearly, that new cover was worth all the effort...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Me and Jonathan Ross

Yeah, I know it sounds pretty grand. But let me explain.

I've been a fan of Mr Ross's Saturday morning radio show for many years. I love his laddish, non PC sense of humour and his ability to improvise (often hilarious) asides and rants. And in all the years I've been listening, I've been trying to get onto his phone-in quiz. What usually happens is, I get through, my name goes into the hat but I don't get picked.

Until Saturday 28th October, that is. What happened, I phoned in as usual and they'd just had julie Andrews on, talking about this children's book she'd written and of course, the researcher asked what I did for a living and I told him and he said, 'ah, that's topical!' and from that point on, I kind of knew that they'd phone back.

As usual, the quiz itself was a debacle. Andy had created this one-off Halloween special, which was so complicated that neither I nor the lady I was playing against, could understand the rules. But, Jonno and I seemed to get on like the proverbial house on fire; we talked about music, we talked about publishing AND, more importantly, I managed to get in a mention of Sebastian Darke; Prince Of Fools (shameless self-publicist that I am).

Inspired by this, I went on to ask Andy why he never plays Gary Cooke. If you haven't heard of him, you're missing out. Gary has a fabulous debut album out called Songs For Everyday Use and it absolutely deserves to be up there in the top 20, so I've kind of made it my personal quest to mention it to whoever I can, whenever I can. Oh, and while I'm on the subject of music, I was lucky enough to meet Ian McNabb at a concert the other night (smashing guy) and can heartily recommend his latest CD, People Don't Stop Believin'.

Anyway, the quiz was abandoned, the prizes (whatever THEY are) will be divided up equally and I am determined to follow this up by sending Jonno (or rather, his children) an advance copy of Sebastian Darke, just as soon as one is available. Well, you know what they say.

Carpe Diem. Which roughly translated, means, 'leave no stone unturned in your desperate quest for adulation.'

Or something like that.

Friday, October 20, 2006

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover...

But the fact is that everybody does.

It's the first thing that we notice in a bookshop or on a website, the thing that makes us pick up the book and read the blurb, or click on the icon to learn more.

So, when Random House decided to make Sebastian Darke happen, they were determined to get the right cover. It's so important, not just for the reader, but also for the book reps who need something visual to take around the bookshops in order to get those all-important advance orders. But finding the right cover was easier said than done.

I waited in some apprehension to see what the chosen artist would make of my work. Every writer has a picture in his or her head of what the characters should look like. How awful if the artist got it wrong!

Sadly, the first artist was way off the mark. I looked at the rough images and my heart dropped. This wasn't right, I thought, not by a long chalk, but luckily, the people at Random House agreed with me. Another artist was approached. They didn't even let me see that version, so I can only guess at what that was like! And the third artist... well, I have to say, I loved what the third artist did. He'd obviously read the book and the characters were spot on; but sadly, some of the major booksellers we were showing the cover to didn't agree that it was going to appeal to enough people. Happily though, 12 of Bob Lea's superb illustrations will still appear inside.

At the 11th hour, artist David Wyatt stepped into the frame with something much simpler, more iconic... and at last, everybody seemed to be happy. Including me.

You see, in these stories, Sebastian Darke wears a lot of different hats... and that's the key to our new look. I hope our readers like it as much as we do.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Are you superstitious?

I am. With me, it's mostly magpies. See, in a desperate attempt to stay lim and lissom, I take my bike up to the local common every single morning (weather permitting, otherwise it's the dreaded exercise bike). And up on the common, there's always lots of magpies.

If I see two of them, I feel my day's got off to great start. If I see one, I have to say, very seriously, 'Good morning Mr Magpie, you're a handsome devil.'

I don't know where I learned this or who told me that this is what you have to say to a single magpie, but if I don't say it, I feel I am under some deep, dark curse that will haunt me all my days. Go figure.

Then there's the running total. If I count up five for silver, or six for gold, I'm ecstatic! And if I see eight, I can make a wish, which is generally a wish that Sebastian Darke will be a great success.

Incidentally, I recently learned that the book has now made the shortlist for the Waterstone's prize.

So maybe there's something in it, after all...

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Darke Ages Are Coming

Sebastian Darke happened almost by accident.

I'd been quite happily publishing adult fiction for a number of years - fairly feisty psycho thriller stuff, mostly for Headline books; and then one day, my 10 year old daughter asked me if she could read one of them.

Now, here's the thing. It was pretty salty, full of murder and mayhem and goodness knows what; and proud though I was of my work, I had to admit that she just wasn't ready for it. So I told her, 'You know what? I'm going to write a story just for you.' And that's exactly what I did. I would write a chapter, read it to her and get her reactions to it. Then I'd ask myself, what happens next? And I would write the next chapter.

Couldn't be easier.

A few chapters in, I made a startling discovery. I was enjoying writing this stuff, every bit as much as my adult fiction; and what's more, I thought that I had finally created a bunch of characters that I could take on to other adventures.

I had three of them.

Sebastian, a 17 year old elfling, trying to fill the boots of his dead father, a celebrated jester. Only problem is, Sebastian can''t tell a joke to save his life.

Max, his buffalope, a talking (and endlessly complaining) beast of burden with ideas above his station. Max is the funny one and with Sebastian he forms a curious kind of double act.

And Cornelius, a powerful super-warrior who is half the height of most men but twice as powerful.

At the time of writing, I didn't expect to ever see their adventures in print. But then, I sent the first book to Charlie Sheppard at Random House and almost before I could say 'Shadlog's teeth,' Charlie was my editor, a three-book deal was signed and Sebastian Darke was at the Bologna Book Fair, doing very nicely thank you.

This blog is going to be all about what happens en route to publication and beyond. The thrills and spills, the wonders and blunders of children's publishing - somewhere I have never ventured before.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

Philip Caveney