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