Announcing ‘Evan And The Bottom Rockets On Holiday’

Announcing ‘Evan And The Bottom Rockets On Holiday’! The book is the second in the series featuring clever Evan the kid with sprout-induced fart problems and takes place somewhere in the middle of book one before Evan’s sprout eating is exposed. The setting is Evan’s summer holidays and, of course, the jokes are mainly on his father Willy Hart-Boodle. Evan’s bottom blows and when it does chaos usually ensues.

The Hart-Boodles take a trip to Spain where things don’t exactly go to plan. The flight over is marred by the first of Evan’s rocket farps and we first encounter ‘the big lady’. The apartment isn’t exactly as advertised and Willy Hart-Boodle has problems in a water park and at the beach. Rosie develops a disgusting habit of her own and Willy has more problems in the airport before they fly home.

The Hart-Boodles test-drive a car and encounter an unfortunate policeman before travelling to a wedding. Evan delivers more chaos and Willy makes a mess of his best-man duties.

Calamities occur when the Hart-Boodles visit a rare-breeds farm and later when they make a trip to the super-market.

So far the response has been good to this second instalment and it’s been great to hear the sound of a child’s laughter when jokes work!

The date of publishing will be some time in the future yet but will almost certainly be handled by a self-publishing company. If anybody has any advice about this I would be very interested to hear from you. Otherwise, stay tuned as the process towards publication continues. I will no doubt let you know all about it!

Site Changes

Today I changed my site by removing a number of posts and pages. I did this because I felt that I was sharing too much of myself and it was making me feel uncomfortable.

The focus of this site was always to promote my fiction and now I will concentrate on that and my book reviews.

I took down my mental health section because I felt that, on reflection, it was unlikely to help others, and, instead, just gave sensitive and personal information about myself away. I also removed information about my faith as this, too, instead of promoting it, just invited prejudice and confrontation.

I’m aware that people have liked pages that are now taken down and I’m sorry if they are disappointed. However, I hope that you can now appreciate my reasons for doing so.

I find that most blogs that I visit exist simply to make their creators money and most of the posts are just engineered to attract views in order to turn this attention into business. I dislike this hint of disingenuousness and so I have now moved away from this kind of strategy. I now state quite straightforwardly my intention. This blog is about my writing and about children’s books – so I will stick to that.

Book Review: ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder’ by Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is no ordinary writer. For a start he is Norwegian and writes in Norwegian (how many successful children’s books here in the UK are translated from Norwegian?), and he has a degree in Economics and Business Administration; but that’s not all: he was a journalist and also a stockbroker; he is the lead singer in a rock band called Di Derre; he played football to a high level until a bad injury forced him to quit, and he is an accomplished rock climber.

His writings include seven novels featuring a detective called ‘Harry Hole’; five novels in the ‘Doctor Proctor’ series; two ‘Olav Johansen’ novels; short stories and stand-alone novels plus one work of non-fiction. What’s even more impressive is that his works have been turned into television series and films worked on (and possibly worked on in the future) by luminaries such as Martin Scorcese; Michael Fassbender; Rebbecca Ferguson; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Leonardo DiCaprio; Denis Villeneuve; Jake Gyllenhaal; Chaninng Tatum; Tobey Maguire and Baltasar Kormakur. He has numerous awards and nominations.

I picked up ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder’ knowing none of that (there is no biography in the book) and simply because I thought it would be similar to my own stories ‘Evan And The Bottom Rockets’ and ‘Evan and The Bottom Rockets On Holiday’ (to be published soon I hope; see a synopsis on this site). I noticed it some while back on a shelf in my local Tesco’s, and although I didn’t buy it until recently, I knew that I would have to change the name of the doctor in my book from Doctor Proctor in its wake. The doctor in my book is now called ‘Doctor Bottom’.

Simon And Schuster publish the book and advertise it on its cover as being by a ‘number one bestselling author’ (always bound to drive up sales) and by quoting ‘The Guardian’ as saying that it is ‘hilariously funny’; and the Big Issue: ‘wickedly entertaining’.

Having just finished the book I have to say that my son didn’t laugh once, even when farting was mentioned. It makes me feel a lot better about my books because he was laughing hard throughout those. This is not just to boast or plug my books (well just a little bit) but to make the point that whoever reviewed it in The Guardian must have read a different version than mine, or perhaps his children have a totally different sense of humour to mine.

With these reviews I often wonder just how much of the books the reviewer has actually read and just how independent they are. Sometimes I imagine a bit of you-review-me-I’ll-publish-you or other hidden links behind the scenes: perhaps I am getting a bit cynical in my middle-age. I have noticed that once a writer/book/film has become relatively successful everything else that they do seems to be given gushing praise. Once you are a best-selling author they want to like you. Once a winning formula is found that makes money a bandwagon has been created and the bottom line is in sight. I digress.

As I began to explain, I don’t think this book is particularly funny. It doesn’t actually feature much farting or other bodily functions and little boy humour, and where there is some it isn’t particularly played for laughs in the way that it should have been.

My first impression of the book from the opening chapters was that for my son’s age group (he is eight) it is quite confusing. There is a breathless quality to it because of very long sentences that need careful attention. They take the reader on a visual journey that doesn’t seem to make much sense. From the perspective of the rest of the book it is easier to understand the beginning but any parent will testify to the fact that in order to get a child to commit to being interested in a book an author must capture them straight away, because it is hard to persuade a child to listen once they have made up their minds that they don’t like a story, and they make their minds up very quickly. My son, however, is as bright as a button (again I boast but it is true) and just about kept up.

Norway, Oslo, Akerhus Fortress, Sharpsborg, the Commandant, the white teeth in the sewer: its an unusual beginning. There is, however, a familiarity about the characters (a Roald Dahl familiarity), the sad lonely girl; the short boy always being picked on; the school thugs; the fat villain; and the nutty Professor, all these characters are stereo-types to some extent. That being said, Nilly in particular is very engaging when you get used to him, especially his clever exchanges with other characters either in authority over him or bullying children.

The plot doesn’t really have a great tension and resolve mechanism for me but at least children will appreciate the happy ending even if they don’t care quite as much as they could have done. The Professor (here comes a spoiler) riding away on his motorcycle to Paris to find his lost love will not be of much interest to a little boy who thinks those sort of things are just ‘yucky’.

Overall, the book has a unique quality about it but also stereo-typical elements. It isn’t particularly funny, and might be confusing for young readers. However, from an adult point of view, it is more interesting to read than some other books for this age group. The authorial presence is strong and whether you like that or not is an entirely personal decision. It has a cleverness about it and an energy, and that, I think, is why publishers and critics went for it.

Did it do enough to entice me into buying the rest of the series? No.

Have a read and feel free to totally disagree!

‘George And The Dragon’ (Wormell, Red Fox, 2002)

According to Wikipedia Chris Wormell worked as a road-sweeper and rubbish collector (amongst other jobs) before taking up painting as a hobby. His first book: ‘An Alphabet Of Animals’, was published in 1990. Since then he has become a prize-winner with a long list of books and achievements including providing artwork for commercial advertising and designing the lion for Aston Villa’s club badge in 2016.

This particular book was published in 2002 and features a heroic mouse named George. George saves a princess (I am assuming that she is a princess) from the clutches of a huge rampaging red dragon by moving in next door it and asking for sugar. The dragon is terrified of mice and flees leaving the mouse to reap the rewards for saving the princess: lots of food and a ‘cosy little hole in the castle wall’.

The illustrations are excellent, particularly the mighty dragon and his destruction of the castle. The words are in a familiar style to young children: ‘Far, far away in the high, high mountains in a deep, deep valley, in a dark, dark cave…’ but the plot is a twist on the tale of brave St. George. A dragon being scared of mice is a device I will resist the temptation to analyse; suffice to say that very young children will love the book and adults will appreciate its brevity when reading the seventh story of the night; it’s the perfect length for its target audience.

It’s a pleasure to read but the audiobook is well worth getting also. The narration by Brian Blessed delivered with characteristic gusto.

Overall, ‘George And The Dragon’ is a book well worth buying for young children.

‘Wild Boars Cook’ by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall (Puffin 2008)

Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall team up again for the sequel to ‘Meet Wild Boars’ in which the boars, ever hungry, cook their own food.

Boris, Morris, Horace and Doris spy a recipe for a massive pudding after Doris begins to eat a cookbook. Utterly obsessed by food, the wild boars fantasize about ingredients and somehow manage to create an enormous pudding – which they subsequently eat in ‘ten seconds flat’ and in the rudest possible way. Still hungry they find a recipe for a massive cookie.

The appallingly badly behaved boars are good fun and the illustrations are very cleverly done (how would you illustrate a wild boar being selfish?) throughout. Some prefer the first book (‘Meet Wild Boars’) but I found this to be funnier and so did my kids. We still talk about pizzas ‘as big as the moon’!

I would recommend this book for parents with small children up to the age of six.

Book Review: ‘Meet Wild Boars’ (Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall 2005 Puffin)

Two experienced and award winning women collaborated on this 2005 picture book introducing naughty, dirty and disgusting wild boars. Meg Rosoff is a well-known writer, mainly of novels, and Sophie Blackall is equally as well known for her illustrations.

Children will enjoy the stinky wild boars especially when they fart and poo (always gets laughs with children – and me actually) and are generally badly behaved. They do all the things that children would love to do but aren’t allowed; they are anarchic and foul, mean, and downright nasty.

The book is about as long as is required for a picture book and works well for children up to 7 I would guess. My young children loved it although it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Memorable moments include Horace farting and soaking himself in the toilet; stinky Doris; and the pile of poo on the last page.

Worth getting hold of!

Ten Writing Tips

 

Here are some writing tips that you might not have found elsewhere.

 

1 Make sure you are comfortable

 

Writing can wreck your back unless you have a decent chair and a good posture. Writing whilst you are uncomfortable can be an unwanted distraction.

 

2 Make sure you are not hungry or thirsty

 

Being dehydrated or very hungry will affect your ability to write and concentrate so don’t push time just because you have found some inspiration.  If you manage to eat and drink a little you will probably be able to pick it up again afterwards, only this time, with better concentration.

 

3 Make sure you have the right conditions to write in

 

I always write with music in the background.  If you write with music blocking out background noises you will be able to keep your concentration.  I find music that I know really well doesn’t distract me but does keep other distractions out. Any random piece of conversation that I hear immediately stops me in my tracks.  Everyday noises are a real sentence breaker. Create a little cocoon of creativity

 

4 Make sure you are prepared

 

Being prepared before you write is a must.  You will save time if you plan properly.  If you set off on a book and half-way through you still aren’t sure what age group you are writing for or get stuck not knowing where you are headed or who your main character is you will end up having to re-write most of it. You need to know what your audience is and what kind of book you are writing.

 

5 Use random words

 

Random words can really create ideas.  There are different ways to get random words.  There are tools on the internet or you could just randomly open a dictionary.  Do people have dictionaries anymore?

 

6 Make sure you can avoid writer’s block

 

If your planning is held up by being stuck for ideas for flash fiction or a short story, an internet article or something else, and you are sitting at your desk with your head in your hands, have the courage to write the first sentence that comes into your head. I did this with one of my favourite short stories.  Out of the blue I came up with:

 

‘“You’re all slaves!” The Prophet raised his arms and violently shook his hands that were held together by the super-electronic shackles, his defiant voice pouring scorn upon their android posturing.’

 

I had no idea that I was going to write science fiction.  Where it came from I have no idea.

 

7 Write more than one story at a time

 

I’m sure that there is advice out there that will tell you to concentrate on one thing at a time.  You will never get anything done if you have more than one project on the go at the same time they will say. I disagree.  I find that having three or four books going at the same time helps me.  I don’t spend time at my desk with writer’s block.  If I’m stuck I’ll go to another one of my books and write for a while.  Some days I’m only in the mood for one or two of them.  I find that I can actually get a lot done this way.

 

8 Don’t let other people’s opinions destroy your originality

 

Time and time again I read about the importance of asking for feedback from other people and the absolute necessity of using editors and attending writing courses or joining local writer’s groups. There are occasions where feedback is good.  I read my children’s stories to my son and learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. However, I think originality is the x-factor that makes great authors great and I would hate to change my style because of someone else’s opinion (including agents or publishers).  Where is the satisfaction in writing exactly what you think will get published even if you hate it? It’s much better to be published for writing like yourself and no-one else.  It’s your project and it’s your right to do it exactly as you please. Break the rules! All the best art breaks the rules!

 

9 If you are not enjoying it it’s probably no good

 

When you have that buzz about what you have just written it’s probably good.  If you are bored the chances are that your audience will be also.

 

10 Don’t work too hard

 

One of the good things about being a writer is that it is a pleasure and a thrill to feel your creativity flowing.  Making it too much like hard work is going to turn you off writing. Give yourself a break and finish at a reasonable time. Give yourself enough time off and don’t be afraid to admit that it just isn’t working at any particular time. So go and do something else. Sir Elton John gives himself a very short amount of time to write a song in.  If it isn’t flowing after that he just gives up and does something else.

 

Book Review: ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’

Macmillan Children’s Books published ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’ back in 2006. The author and illustrator Chris Riddell is award-winning and wrote another favourite of mine, ‘Wendel’s Workshop’. See that review for more information about him.

The illustrations are consistent throughout and done very well. Children will love immersing themselves in them.

The theme of absurdity is down to the concept of the child having a dream that is influenced by all the things in his bedroom: his toys, pictures and books. At the beginning the concept is that this is a story about a real emperor in a real but very strange world. The twist at the end is that it is all a dream.

The words and pictures work well apart from some pictures not having enough words underneath them. I found myself wanting to dwell on the pictures but needing to move on because the words had run out.

Some small children may be a little scared by the sequence with the wild-looking dragon but it does add a little excitement to the story.

I found that the pictures at the front and back were good to stop and look at because of the amount of detail in them.

The ending works and my children haven’t tired of reading it.

It’s very nice in the hardback version.

Very good but not quite 5 stars.

Book Review: ‘Christopher Nibble’ by Charlotte Middleton

Charlotte Middleton wrote and illustrated this excellent little book about a guinea pig saving the dandelion from extinction and learning to love growing things.

I’m not going to analyse the book and wax lyrical about its eco-friendly theme or regurgitate the blurb. I’m just going to mention what works.

The illustrations have a sustained and original style, which is good because it helps children to immerse themselves into its unique world.

The choice of guinea-pig pants in the front and end of the book is always of interest: “which pants would you choose daddy?”

The words are easy to read and the decision not to rhyme everything (like most children’s authors feel the need to do) was a good one.

The amusing books in the library are fun for adults to find too: ‘War & Pizza’ anyone?

The double page spread of Christopher blowing the dandelion seeds works nicely.

The end is nice if not spectacular, amusing, or unexpected.

This is a book that is a pleasure to read and doesn’t try too hard. The author is wise to understand that at bedtime a gentle story can be just the ticket.

I, however, won’t be wearing pants and wellies in the garden any time soon.

Book Review: ‘Pulling The Trigger’

This is a book for sufferers of OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and related depression, currently sitting on top of Amazon’s search lists for books on those topics. Adam Shaw, a successful businessman and founder of a mental health charity, reveals his problems with OCD and how Lauren Callaghan’s approach to treating him worked. The book was published by Trigger Press in 2016, which is a publishing company created by Shaw (Managing Director) and Callaghan (Director).

As a sufferer from obsessive thoughts, anxiety and depression, and diagnosed with BPD I bought the book hoping for at least something helpful.

Reading through the book I remember being very frustrated as page after page (85 of them including the introduction to be precise) just detailed Adam Shaw’s problems and kept saying how wonderful the new approach to treatment was without going on to spell it out. It actually made me quite angry.

In the second part of book the back-slapping continued. I finished the book wishing that they had just written: ‘Adam had OCD and Lauren told him to accept it’. It would have saved me a lot of time, effort and cash. The conclusion is all that you really need to read.

Accepting that you have OCD and panic attacks is very difficult. Embracing it feels wrong. It is not for the faint-hearted and I can envisage many feeling that this approach is not for them. I’m not criticising the technique because it obviously works for some people. I just think this could have been an article on a website and not a book because it keeps repeating itself all the way through.

I would advise people to google treatment for OCD and read about it online instead.