1. The name of the Furnace Penitentiary actually comes from a horror book for adults that I wrote when I was 18. Back then it was a prison for the criminally insane where the inmates were being hunted by bloodthirsty angels! The book was never published, and I loved the name Furnace so I stole it!
2. In the original draft of the novel, Alex Sawyer's name was Alex Smith, the same as mine! I wanted the book to feel as real as possible, so I wrote it with my name and even suggested that the author biography went something along the lines of: "Alexander Smith was convicted of a murder he didn't commit and sentenced to life without parole in Furnace Penitentiary. This is his story." The UK publishers didn't like the idea, though, so his surname was changed to Sawyer!
3. Likewise, Zee's name was originally Zed. However, there were too many instances of "Zed Said" and it was starting to sound like a Dr Seuss book, so I changed it to the American pronunciation, Zee!
4. Originally I wanted Furnace to be a modern prison, built above ground. Then, for research, I went to investigate some medieval dungeons in Norwich, where I live. My cheeky little brother locked me in a cell deep underground in the old prison, and as I was panicking in the tiny, pitch black (and probably haunted) space I decided that the prison would be far more terrifying if it was buried beneath the earth.
5. The only characters I had trouble describing when I was writing Lockdown were the Wheezers. I knew what I wanted them to be but I couldn't pin them down on the page. So I made a real-life Wheezer head out of rubber, burning and painting it until it looked right. I bought an old gas mask and stitched it on, then gave it a filthy rain slicker. Once I had done this I knew exactly what these nightmare creatures looked like, and what it was like to have one in your house! I even took it round to Jamie's house and left it outside his room one night to get revenge for him locking me in a cell!
6. In the UK the series is called Furnace, but it was changed in the US to Escape From Furnace. One of the reasons for this is that Wes, my editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pointed out that in the States most people have a furnace in their basement, and that they aren't particularly scary! In the UK hardly anybody has a furnace!
7. As part of researching the book I thought I owed it to myself to find out what it was like to shoot a gun. After all, there are plenty of gunfights in Lockdown and I wanted the story to feel as genuine and realistic as possible. A friend of mine, Adam, invited me to come shooting for rabbits with him one weekend. I told him I didn't want to shoot anything living, so he informed me that the best thing to shoot was actually... a cowpat! We spent the morning out on the fields doing exactly that. When you shoot a cowpat with a shotgun it literally explodes – it's like watching a poo volcano! There was one unfortunate incident when we both shot a giant cowpat at the same time. It rose up, caught the wind, and surged in the direction of Adam's little brother, who was out shooting with us. The poor boy turned around to see a wall of cow dung flying towards him. He didn't have time to dodge. He didn't even have time to close his mouth. It was so disgusting! As well as being hilarious, the experience really helped me describe what it was like to fire a gun.
8. When I first pitched the series to my agent I misspelled the name of the book in the email, calling it FUNRACE (I was so excited about the idea I sent it off without checking)! She probably thought the story was about a jolly marathon – until she read the synopsis!
9. I called one of the villains in the book Kevin Arnold without noticing that it was the same name as the kid in The Wonder Years (even though I always used to watch the show). I could have changed it, but thought it would be interesting to have such a horrible character share the name of one of the nicest kids on television!
10. In the trailer for Furnace (which you can see here), the boy burgling the house is my little brother, Jamie, and the Wheezer is actually me!
1. The name of the Furnace Penitentiary actually comes from a horror book for adults that I wrote when I was 18. Back then it was a prison for the criminally insane where the inmates were being hunted by bloodthirsty angels! The book was never published, and I loved the name Furnace so I stole it!
Yesterday was my last event for a few months and it went brilliantly – a whole day of talks and workshops with Year 8 at Heathersett High School in Norwich. I have to say that the pupils who came to the talk, and especially those who joined in the workshops, were amongst the best that I have ever worked with – so full of amazing, and gory, ideas! Thanks to you all for being so much fun to work with, and to Sara and Lorraine for inviting me in!
It's been a really busy year with events and editing, and of course having the first three books in the Furnace series published. It's been amazing fun, but there hasn't been a huge amount of time to do any writing. I have written two very short books this year, which is great, but nowhere near as many as I wanted to write. And to be honest I think I have become a little lazy in my writing habits. So, in order to inspire myself to start writing seriously again, I have set myself a challenge:
I am going to write eight novels in a year.
Yes, eight novels between now, today, the 1st of December 2009, and the 30th November 2010. Why eight? Well, it was going to be 12, then I thought that would probably kill me. Then I said six, but I didn't think that was challenging enough (I mean it would still be a huge challenge, but I'd probably end up not starting until next summer or something, I needed it to be such a huge task that I'd have to start right away), so then I went to 10, and thought that was too challenging, and finally settled on eight.
Of course I'm not intending to write eight flawless, finished novels in this time (me write a flawless novel, ha!). No, the idea is to write eight first drafts that I can then move on and edit and trim and finish at my own pace. Really what I want to do is write write write and get some ideas down on paper, actually get some manuscripts written. Some of them may be rubbish, but they'll at least be a starting point.
Can I do it? I'm not sure. The most I've ever written in a year was three full-length novels and a screenplay. But I'll have six weeks to finish each book, and I don't think it's ever taken me longer than that to finish the first draft of a novel. Anyway, the fun will be in the trying!
I'm thinking that each book will be around 60,000 words long, on average, which is almost half a million words in total. That breaks down into 1,300 (ish) words every day, which sounds very doable if I don't think about the days that I won't be able to write anything at all. Anyway, the more I think about the numbers the worse this idea sounds, so I'm going to do what I do best and not think about the logistics. I'm just going to start writing!
I'll keep you all updated on the blog!
Wish me luck!
PS. Thanks to my good friend Tim Clare for inspiring me. He set himself a challenge of writing 100 poems in a single day which sounded impossible, but he did it! So I'm following his lead!
No, I don't mean Mario's nemesis, I mean my car. I'm always astonished how easy it is to become attached to inanimate objects. Even though the logical part of your brain is telling you that a car is a hunk of metal and plastic and other lifeless materials, that it cannot possibly hear what you are saying or feel any semblance of human emotion, you still cannot help but think of it as alive, as a living, breathing, thinking, feeling thing.
Which is why, when you have to give up a car, it can be like losing a best friend, a member of the family.
Bowser has been my faithful Volvo V40 for four years now, it has carried me many thousands of miles and joined me on many an adventure. But sadly the week before last his engine went totally bonkers and he started trying to drive himself. Literally trying to drive himself. He was moving forward even when I didn't have my foot on the accelerator. At first I thought that the many years of wishing my car was alive had paid off and he had actually become a sentient vehicle. However, the people at the garage told me his throttle was shot and that he basically needed a new engine. I felt a bit like how Gepetto would have felt if, after witnessing his puppet come to life, somebody had said "actually, he's not alive at all, sorry about that. By the way, if you ever want to use him again it will cost you £3,000". Gutted.
Bowser was my second car, after a little red Dihatsu Charade called Clint which I bought from my friend Luke after uni (and yes, that's where Clint in The Inventors got his name from)! I couldn't really justify spending more money to fix him than I paid to buy him in the first place, so I said my sad farewells and traded him in for another car. But that moment when I patted him on the steering wheel for the last time, gently closed his door and said goodbye was heartbreaking!
Anyway, I'm welling up again now, but I just wanted to write a tribute to Bowser, the best car in the world. Thanks for everything. I'll miss you!
And even though my new car is pretty cool, it doesn't have an ejector seat / rockets / wings and a turn-into-a-boat button like Bowser (okay, you can't really see them on this picture, but he did!):
Hello everybody! It's been a good long while since my last entry (which is becoming a rather standard first line in my blogs recently) but I have been on tour again so I do have an excuse! But right now I'm sitting in my new office (the picture above is the view from my window, which isn't great I have to admit but that is a field you can kind of see in the distance) with a bit of spare time so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to catch up!
Why the new office? Well, I usually work from home, which is absolutely perfect most of the time. However, anybody who works from home will be able to tell you that it is often quite difficult to motivate yourself to do any work at all. "Working from home" becomes more like "washing up from home" or "doing laundry from home" or, more usual for me "playing on the X-Box from home". There's just something about getting out of bed and strolling through to the living room that really doesn't feel like work.
So... Tired of not getting much done, I decided to look for an office. And it was good timing, as two great friends of mine, Luke and Nathan, were also looking for a space to work in that was far enough from the telly (or in Luke's case a new baby) to be conducive to a little hard work. Luke discovered an old shoe factory just down the road from us that was offering rooms on the cheap, and after a quick look round we took it! It is a fantastic space, and the building itself is very inspiring (well, for horror stories, that is, as it's full of creepy corridors and shadowy old factory floors). I'll take some more piccies soon and post them here.
I haven't had much of a chance to use the office yet (which Luke affectionally named The Garret), as I've been so busy on tour. But I have been sitting here today and it's been so nice to have a space without any distractions (apart from Facebook, and drawing hilarious but inappropriate gags about Nathan on the new blackboard wall...) and I have actually managed to get loads of stuff done!
Anyway, speaking of the tour, I just want to say a huge thanks to everybody who came to see me talk, and who joined in the workshops, I have had an amazing time! I'll write about it in more detail very soon, but for now let me just give a shout out to all the pupils, teachers and librarians at Edenham School, Oasis Academy, the Archbishop Lanfranc School, the Archbishop Tennison School, Harris Academy and Riddlesdown Collegiate in Croydon, Christ's College in Guildford, Seven Stories in Newcastle, the Durham Festival, the Richmond Festival, Worksop Library (and the school that came to visit) and Buxton Library! I think that's everyone... Two more events to go and then I'm taking some time off to do some writing! It has been an amazing month though!
Right, I'm off to Kung Fu, see you all soon!
Sorry I've been absent for a while, I've been on tour! Yes, a tour, just like the gods of rock – huge triple-decker tour bus with swimming pool and disco, private jets with military escorts, insane riders at venues (I simply must have a bed made from haggis and I must bathe in champagne every evening) and not to mention my entourage of hair designers, make-up artists, fashion experts and foot corn filers.
Well, to be honest not all of that is true. I didn't have a foot corn filer. I have been on tour, though, to promote the release of Furnace 3: Death Sentence. It's all very exciting! I've finished the first leg, and am off on the second tomorrow, so I don't have an awful lot of time to write, but I just wanted to give you a rundown of events so far and say a huge thanks to everyone who came to see me!
First there was the Free Word Festival at the wonderful new Free Word Centre in London. This is an amazing place devoted to literature, literacy and free expression, and well worth checking out! I was just one of a number of things going on that day, including a Shakespeare rap session with Akala and a manga workshop. Thanks to everybody for listening to my talk, and for asking some great questions!
Next I was on the train heading up to Wigtown. Isn't that just the coolest name for a place?! It has nothing to do with wigs, apparently – if anyone does know why it's called Wigtown please do let me know as I forgot to ask! It was a long, long journey up there (my private jet and coach weren't working that day, I think Bono might have borrowed them) but I took my book and the hours just flew by. All nine and a half of them. It would have been nine, but the lovely retired couple who came to collect me at Dumfries Station needed to do their shopping and so I ended up accompanying them on a trip round Tescos! It was dark when I arrived at the hotel, a beautiful place called the Rowallan Guest House, but when I woke up in the morning the views were absolutely stunning! I always forget how beautiful parts of Scotland are, and the west coast is unbeatable.
After a delicious and healthy fry-up with haggis for breakfast I ventured off to get the bus – I mean my private helicopter – to Wigtown. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and after I checked in with the lovely festival organisers I decided to go and have a wander. I had a couple of hours until my event and the countryside was beckoning me! I headed off for the harbour, and arrived after ten minutes of the freshest air you could imagine (I looked like a man about to try and blow up a hundred balloons). I arrived at the harbour, however, just as the heavens opened. And I mean a monsoon! I was only in my T-shirt (well, I had trousers and stuff on as well, I just mean I wasn't wearing a coat) and I legged it back towards town. Half way there I spotted a signpost for a path and gambled on it being a shortcut... It wasn't (of course), and I ended up taking a very muddy, very wet, very windy detour around the entire town. By the time I got back I was drenched and looked like a mud monster. But it had stopped raining so I walked up to the Windy Hill (yes, it is actually called that) and stood there in the gale-force wind until I was reasonably dry.
Here I am on Windy Hill!
By that time it was almost four, so after a quick spot of lunch in the writer's retreat I headed over to the children's tent. Because of the weather there weren't as many people there as there could have been, but everyone who did come was absolutely fantastic! Smaller audiences often work better because everybody gets a chance to talk, and these guys were so full of great ideas – especially when we started coming up with ideas for horror stories! Thanks so much to you all for braving the weather, and I owe a special thanks to Greg for his wonderful introduction! It was a really great event, and I hope I'll be back again next year!
Afterwards, still a little damp, I popped back to the retreat for a cup of tea and ended up chatting to the wonderful Charlie James, author of Fish and Dino Egg. We even came up with a fantastic Wigtown Scooby Doo episode together! After that I made my way back to the lodge and thought about crashing out for a while before heading off to the festival ceilidh (weirdest spelling ever). I especially wanted to go because fellow Faber author Philip Ardagh might have been there. However, after a hot bath and some chocolate the thought of venturing back out in the dark was too much and I ended up watching X-Factor, playing Civ then going to bed! The next day involved more haggis for breakfast, then a long, long trip back to Norwich (but no trip round Tescos this time)!
Thanks to everyone at Wigtown for being so great! And for anyone who has never been, it really is worth it, especially if you like books. It's Scotland's book town and there are about 15 book shops there, maybe more! Heaven!
After a long snooze I was back on the road (well, the railway tracks) the following day, this time heading in the other direction. I was going down to Kent, to the Petts Wood Library. I got there two minutes after I was supposed to start, and launched myself straight in to my talk. The library was packed, which was wonderful, and it was a younger crowd than the ones I've been talking to recently which was such a nice change! They all laughed their socks off as I talked about building crazy inventions, making rocket boots out of fireworks and shooting cowpats with shotguns, and once again there were some brilliant ideas for stories! Most of them bought books afterwards as well, although sadly there were no copies of The Inventors there because I think it's out of print. ARGH! I'll find out and let you all know! But thanks to you all for making it a fantastic event, and a special thanks too to Jenny for organising it all! I had a great time!
The next event was an extra special one because it took place in another of my old schools! This time my old infant school, Bignold, in Norwich. It was so weird going back there after twenty-five years. Yes, you heard right, a quarter of century! But the weird thing was it smelled exactly the same. In fact that's one of the few things I can remember about Bignold, the smell. It's not a bad smell, just a school smell, but it takes you right back to your early days! I also vaguely remember playing kissy-cat in the playground when I was at Bignold (er, when I was a kid, that was, not when I visited the other day!!) but other than that I don't remember much at all!
I was giving a talk to years 4, 5 and 6 so the hall was absolutely packed. But they were an amazing audience, one of the best I've ever spoken to, and at times they were laughing so hard I thought the windows were going to explode! Thanks to you all for coming up with some great scary ideas and for being such stars! This will definitely go down as one of the best events I've ever done! Thanks to you all, and also to Rachel and Lisa for organising it! I'll definitely be back in soon to do some workshops!
Tomorrow I'm off to London for a week of school events, which I'm really looking forward to! If I'm coming to visit your school then get thinking about scary stories now!
I'll try and blog again as soon as humanly possible. And once again a massive thanks to everyone who came to see me!
This weekend was a busy one, preparing for our Kung Fu testing on Sunday. We did our first grading three months ago – learning the basic stances, blocks, kicks and punches for our white fringe. Going for the yellow fringe is a great deal harder, however, as you have to have mastered the first three forms – long, complicated routines of punches, kicks and stance work. I love doing forms. They are difficult, but extremely satisfying once you've committed them to memory. And they're great exercise too! So on Saturday we were about to start training when Jamie dropped a bombshell – he didn't want to do Kung Fu any more! It's such a shame as it was something I really enjoyed doing with him, but the last thing I want to do is force him to do it. Hopefully it's just a phase and he'll come back to it when he's ready.
So, sans Jamie, Lynsey, Lucy and I headed over to our Kung Fu school on Sunday afternoon, all extremely nervous and convinced that we'd forgotten everything. There were quite a few people doing their testing this time round (which is good in some ways as you can hide at the back behind them all) and we all passed without a problem! So now we've all got our yellow fringes, which really does feel like quite an achievement. Well done everybody! We start learning the forms for an orange fringe today, and they look DIFFICULT!!! We rewarded ourselves with a big dominos pizza (well, three of them actually) plus loads of chocolate and then the four of us played poker and watched the first Harry Potter film.
The weekend wasn't all work, though (not that you can really call any of that work...). On Saturday afternoon Jamie and I went to the cinema to see The Final Destination. We're both big fans of the previous three films, and the fact that this one was in 3D made it unmissable! The plot was EXACTLY the same as its predecessors. And I mean EXACTLY the same. Only with different death scenes. But the death scenes were what we were going to see, so that's okay! Every time I see a 3D film I'm amazed by the technology, and this was the first time I'd seen a live action movie in 3D. Absolutely stunning. It really looked like there was blood and guts spurting out of the screen. Lovely! So I'd recommend going to see this at the cinema as on a 2D screen at home it will just be a rubbish horror movie!
And last night Nathan popped round for another Fallout 3 session. I just love this game sooooooo much. I still wish I lived in the Wasteland, how cool would that be?!
Anyway, I'd better do some writing this week as I'm getting a bit lazy... Life can't be all Kung Fu, cinema and computer games. Can it...?
Okay, I've been asked to correct a heinous error in the last post. Apparently Lyns DID make it to the top of the Walter Scott monument, and she was actually the first person up there. So I'm very sorry about that!
I've been meaning to blog about Edinburgh all week but I've only just got around to it. I haven't had a chance to upload all the pics and video from my show yet, but I'll add them in a little later!
In previous years I've always headed north by myself, but this year I wanted to make an occasion of it and have a little holiday too so Lyns, Lucy and Jamie accompanied me. We all clambered, luggage-laden, onto the train on Wednesday morning to brave the long trip up the east coast. Lyns wanted to fly, but there was no way!! It's a lengthy old trip across the border – an hour and a half to Peterborough from Norwich then another four hours or so to Edinburgh, but we passed the time playing on the DSs and battling with Jamie's new Magic: The Gathering cards. Before we knew it we were clambering, luggage-laden, off the train and into a taxi.
I love Edinburgh. I think it's probably my favourite city in the world (sorry Norwich, I love you too, just not as much). I think it's the architecture that I love most. Everywhere you look in Edinburgh the sights are just breathtaking – not just the castle but the regency buildings and the monuments, and beyond them the hills and the Forth. It's just spectacular. I'd have moved there years ago if it was a little closer, and if the weather wasn't so bloody awful!! We were staying in Channings, which is a gorgeous townhouse hotel a ten minute walk out of town. Apparently it's the friendliest hotel in Edinburgh, and we weren't disappointed. We were in a two-bedroom suite (well, a family room, but two-bedroom suite sounds so much better!) in the basement, but even down there the views out of the huge windows were great! We had a bit of an explore of the hotel, then wandered up to Princes Street, but the rain eventually drove us back to Channings for a meal. I couldn't really enjoy myself, though, because I was anxious about my show...
I needn't have been! The Edinburgh International Book Festival is an amazing event – if you've never been then you just have to check it out next year. There's so much going on, all in a wonderful location. This was the third year that I've been invited, although unfortunately I had to miss my first ever show here back in 2007. Last year I did a brilliantly fun event with John Fardell, and this year I was on my lonesome, which made it even more terrifying! I think the biggest fear when you do an event is that nobody will come, and when I arrived in Charlotte Square 45 minutes before my show to see the place looking quite empty I started to panic. Oh no, there are going to be three people there – Lyns, Lucy and Jamie – and I'm never going to be invited back. I'm just going to run away and hide! I went and sat in the author yurt (yes, it really is called that, it's great – last year I was in there with Sean Connery!) and tried to relax. Patrick Ness was in there too and I really wanted to say hi but I was too nervous and didn't really know what to say! After a few minutes the chair of my show arrived – a lovely woman called Yvonne who told me how much she loved Furnace, which was very sweet. We chatted a while and she put me at ease. Then with a few minutes left to go Sara Grady, the fantastic woman who runs the children's side of the festival, came to collect us. Fortunately when I stepped outside there were loads of kids there, and I was delighted to see that many of them were queueing up outside my venue! We waited outside the door for a few minutes (and people kept coming up and asking me where the loos were – it must have been the bright orange T-shirt I was wearing, even if it did have a rather large skull on it!) then it was time!
When I went through the door I saw that the event was sold out! There must have been 130ish people in there, including Lyns, Lucy and Jamie (who had come very close to arriving late thanks to Lynsey's awful navigation skills). I was delighted (if still absolutely terrified). Yvonne introduced me, then I was on! It was a great event, the audience were so responsive – especially when asked about their greatest fears. Two shout-outs have to go to the boy who said his greatest fear was Glasgow, and the girl in the front row who kept talking about having her eyes ripped out (by spoons, I think, and by insects). By the end of the session we had some absolutely wonderful story ideas. It was one of the best events I've ever done, and thanks so much to everybody who came. Jamie actually filmed it, so I'll try and post the video on the site sometime soon. Afterwards I hopped across the path to the bookshop and signed for nearly an hour. They sold out of books so I was signing slips of paper and allsorts! By the end of it I was absolutely exhausted, but it wasn't over yet! I was doing an outreach event – part of a wonderful programme to bring book festival shows to less privileged parts of the city – and a great guy called Colm whisked me off in a taxi to the McDonald Road Library where I did a smaller but equally enjoyable show. Thanks so much to the pupils who came to this one too, I had a fantastic time and you were all great. Let me know if you turn any of those great ideas into stories! Oh and because there weren't books at this event I ended up signing about twenty arms, which is a first!
So thanks again everybody for making my events in Edinburgh go so fantastically well – hopefully I'll see you all next year!
Utterly knackered, I headed back to the hotel and chilled out for a bit and waited for the gang to come back from a day of shopping. After a bit of relaxation we decided to go out for something to eat, and ended up heading round to the south side of the castle, and the Grassmarket. I love that part of Edinburgh – it always reminds me of going there with my dad when I was little. There used to be a shop that sold spooky Polish posters that we would always visit, although I can't seem to find it there now. It had started to rain again (surprise surprise) so we dashed into a Steak and Oyster bar for a meal. I didn't really fancy a steak as I'd had a burger for lunch, so I had mussels. They were gross!!! I pride myself on being able to eat anything, but I really struggled with these. Blurgh! Jamie ate most of mine, even though he'd eaten a bucket of mussels himself! It was late by the time we'd walked back to the hotel, so we decided to have an early night and save our energy for tomorrow – Lynsey's birthday!
In the morning me, Jamie and Lucy went and had a slap-up breakfast while Lyns had a lie-in, and we brought her back a mountain of toast and danish pastries. We'd said that Lyns could do whatever she wanted today, and she wanted to visit the castle, which was great. We walked across town, getting a bit lost in the Princes Street gardens, then up the steepist hill in the world to get to the castle gates. The tattoo was on all month, so the view was obscured a bit by the scaffolding, but once we'd got past that the castle looked superb. We had a good wander round, and luckily the weather was clear so we could enjoy the spectacular vistas from the top (although the freezing wind was doing its best to blow us off the edge)! Lyns and Lucy watched a show about Mary Queen of Scots while Jamie and I went to eat (I had haggis, delicious)! Then we headed back down into town. Next Lynsey wanted to go to the camera obscura which is just outside the castle gates. It's an amazing place – not just because of the pinhole camera which lets you spy on the city below, but because of all the mega cool magical and illusion stuff they have there. Some of it is mind-boggling! We spent hours roaming around being gob-smacked. I'd really recommend this place to anyone who's visiting Edinburgh. After that we were pretty tired so we walked back to the hotel and had dinner there. The staff even put a little birthday candle in Lynsey's creme brulee whilst we sang happy birthday, which was very sweet! All in all it was one of the best days ever!!!!
We had great fun the next day too, walking into town and visiting the Museum of Childhood. This has to be one of the scariest places I have ever been in my whole life – there is a room full of spooky dolls!!! I don't think I'd stay in there overnight for a million quid! It's a fascinating place, though, full of toys that have been long forgotten in this age of computer games and the like. After that we did a bit of shopping – the girls looking for souvenirs and me and Jamie looking for Magic cards and Battlestar Galactica T-shirts (yes, I know, we're geeks). Then we spent hours trying to find somewhere to eat before ending up in Bella Italia. Then it was time for bed!
To make the most of our final day I hadn't booked the train until 3, so we dropped off our luggage at the station and headed for the Walter Scott monument. I think it's so awesome that this immense and imposing tower was built in honour of a writer – I mean how cool is that?! I hope I have one of these made in my honour after I die :-) There are around 270 steps to the top, and they get steeper and narrower as you climb. By the time you reach the highest of several balconies your head is spinning from the circular climb, which means you're towering over the city below and the world is literally circling you. All in all not a great design... Lyns backed out on the penultimate level, but the rest of us made it to the top. I have to say it was absolutely terrifying, but great fun at the same time! After we'd clambered down and kissed solid ground we went for a cuppa in the National Gallery, then it was time for the train :-(
I wish we'd had longer to spend in Edinburgh, but even though we only had a few days it was one of the best holidays I've ever had, and one of the best shows I've ever done! See you next year, Edinburgh!
Well, this is the last weekend before dratted school stars again! To try and get the most out of summer (I can't believe how fast it's flown by, seven weeks in the blink of an eye, that's scary!) we headed out to the beach yesterday. It was late by the time we left, and it was raining, but that shouldn't stop you enjoying the seaside! We went to Cromer because we all fancied fish and chips, and to be honest Mary Jane's Fish and Chips are the best in the world. We gobbled up our fish suppers in the restaurant because it was so miserable outside, then headed for the arcades to play basketball, guitar hero and the quiz machine. Great fun!
What was great about it, though, is that Lyns brought a pack of cards with her. Now, we quite often play cards when we're eating out, usually Old Maid because it's so easy to play. But when we were eating our fish and chips Lyns suggested playing Cheat. I haven't played that since I was at school, and I'd forgotten how addictive it is! For those who have never played, the pack (minus Jokers) is dealt out evenly to each player. Players must lay cards face down on the table in a certain order: they have to lay a card which is the same, one higher, or one lower than the card that has just been played. For instance if the first player lays two sixes, the second player must lay fives, sixes or sevens. If they lay a seven, the next player must lay sixes, sevens or eights. The great thing about the game, though, is that because the cards are laid face down, you can cheat if you want to. So if you don't have any sixes, sevens or eights then you can lay a queen and say it's a six. It's all about bluffing, and trying to work out who's telling the truth and who's cheating. If you don't believe someone then call 'Cheat' and their last card is checked. If they were cheating, then they get the whole pile, if they weren't, then you do. The winner is the first person to get rid of all their cards!
It's a fantastic game, and the best thing was that when we got back to the house nobody wanted to watch TV or movies, nobody wanted to play computer games or go on Facebook. Everybody, especially Jamie and Lucy, just wanted to play Cheat. And the same thing today! It's so wonderfully refreshing! If you've got kids who won't tear their eyeballs away from the screen, get out the cards and give Cheat a go – but maybe check the rules as my instructions aren't great!
I also read out the finished Bogey Brothers as a bedtime story and it went down very well, which is a good sign!
Anyway, enjoy the last weekend of the holiday!!!!!!!
Thanks to my lovely friend, Jennifer Oey, I now have a snazzy US version of the Lockdown: Escape From Furnace trailer.
Check out on the official MacMillan webpage and the Lockdown YouTube site, and if you're on Facebook become a friend of Lockdown here! Go on, you know you want to! These are all works in progress at the moment, and there will be an official Lockdown site coming soon. But check them out anyway as they're all cool!
Everybody, I'd like to introduce you to FURNACE: DEATH SENTENCE!!!!! It arrived yesterday afternoon, and is a 0.5lb bundle of joy! Well, okay, it's not exactly a bundle of joy, it's a terrifying roller-coaster ride of excitement and horror as Alex and his friends make one last bid to escape from the nightmare that is Furnace Penitentiary. But it's still a very welcome addition to the Furnace family and we welcome it with open arms!
Look how cool it looks with its brothers and sisters!!!
Kissy kissy, I love you little books!
Ahem, sorry. I heard that this book was out last week when a couple of people, including Liz from MyFavouriteBooks, contacted me to let me know they had received it. I was in Edinburgh at the time, and was incredibly miffed that Faber hadn't sent me a copy! But after a little prod they popped one in the post. I am so thrilled to see it. Somehow having three books in the series now makes it so much more exciting – The Inventors was a two-book series, which is so 2007 / 2008 :-)
I LOVE the design of this one. I think white was a risky colour to go for but it works. If anything it reminds me of bloodstained hospital bedsheets which, as anybody can see from the other elements of the cover, is actually perfectly fitting. Gruesome! And I was also very relieved to see that the picture Amazon have been showing on their website for the last few months was NOT actually the finished cover of the book. For those who haven't seen the Amazon cover, it appears to have what looks like a character from the sci-fi flick The Fly in the bottom left-hand corner. Why? I'm not 100% sure. But I was very relieved to see that this particular character had buzzed off of the final version.
It feels great to have five books out now, it all seems to have happened so quickly. Thanks again so much to everybody involved in the publishing and marketing of Furnace, you've all done an absolutely wonderful job! Now, on with Book 4!
A week or so ago I started writing something new. It started off as a joke, and was exceptionally silly, but then the idea took shape and I realised the project had legs, albeit very bendy legs that struggled to walk in a straight line. Anyway, I've just finished the first draft of the new book which, at 15,000 words, is probably a tad long. I'll let it sleep for a day or two then go through it. It's totally different to anything I've written before, but it's great fun and it might just end up going somewhere! For anyone interested, the book is actually written by The Bogey Brothers – which is me and my little brother Jamie (who co-wrote The Inventors). He came up with the main jist of the story. But the great thing about this book is not the story itself, but the way it is told. Maybe I'll post the first couple of chapters up here sometime soon and you can let me know what you think!
That's two books written this year, although they have both been very short. Oh, and a picture book too. One more to go to meet my annual target!
I've been working pretty hard of late (not like coal miner or teacher or nurse hard, but pretty hard by my standards) so I gave myself a few days off this week. I'm not a great one for holidays. I like them and all, I just never seem to have one (unless, like Lynsey always says, you include the non-stop holiday that is my life...). That's one of the problems of working for yourself – it's much harder to book a few days off because there always seems to be things to do. Work is like water, it flows out and fills up every available inch of space. Not that I'm complaining! But it is sometimes nice just to say "right, that's it, I'm having a couple of days to myself and I'm not going to do any work or check emails or anything". So that's what I did!
Not that I did anything immensely exciting. Although some of the highlights were:
A weekend of Kung Fu seminars that Jamie and I took, which were so much fun. We learned how to do Kung Fu board breaking, which was awesome (except when I tried to punch a watermelon and slipped off and punched the floor – there is a video of that which I'll try and post here one day) and joint locks, which was cool, and even how to defend ourselves from a knife attack using nothing more than a newspaper (which was fantastic, except when I tried to break a board with my newspaper and hit it with my hand instead, the same hand – I really need to work on my aim)! There was also a school BBQ which the four of us went to. It was great to meet the other students – because we have private lessons we only really see them in passing. Everybody is so lovely, it's like one great big family!
Lots of trips to the beach. We popped out to Waxham after the Kung Fu seminars. It's just the most gorgeous beach ever – miles of golden sand and warm (well, warm for England) water. The sun was blazing and we went swimming (with the seals) and played catch with the American football. So much fun! A few days later the weather was still great so we decided to go to the beach again. Lyns didn't want to go back to Waxham and I did, but in the end we went to Sea Palling (with Mum and Christopher and Matthew too) which is just down the coast and equally lovely. However, we'd only been there an hour or so before police flooded the beach and started telling us to evacuate. I thought it was a terrorist attack – in Sea Palling!!! We grabbed our stuff and vacated, only to see a bomb disposal van. It turned out that an old WWII shell had been uncovered on the beach and we all could have been blown to smithereens! It was a pain, but it was worth it for the fact that Lyns learned I am always right and should be obeyed at all times :-) We drove to Yarmouth instead and sat on the beach there for a while.
That hole would have been impressive if Jamie and Lucy dug it, but it was there when we got there! Jamie's er, new assets, however, were our doing :-)
I think this was actually taken at Wells a couple of weeks ago, but it's pretty cool!
Apart from that, and lots of Battlestar Galactica (the new series is soooooooooo good, I'll blog about it elsewhere), the week just involved hanging out with friends and having fun. I even bought a new bench for my garden and had a BBQ to celebrate:
Anyway, I'd better go get my stuff ready for Edinburgh!
For anybody who wants an insight into what went into writing Furnace then head over to the excellent Book Smugglers blog. It's run by Ana, one of the lovely people I met at the Guillermo Del Torro signing, and is an utterly fantastic place to visit for book reviews and giveaways. Ana recently reviewed Furnace (extremely positively, thanks!) and asked me if I wanted to do a guest post. I started to write something for her, and that something became a very personal insight into a difficult period in my past which ultimately led to the creation of Alex Sawyer, the hero (antihero?) of the Furnace books. There's also a chance to win Furnace goodies!
Anyway, check it out for yourself!
And thanks, Ana, for the chance to bare my soul!
Just a quick note to say that if anyone would like to win copies of Furnace 1 and 2, and The Inventors 1 and 2, plus related goodies, then head on over to the wonderful Tall Tales and Short Stories blog – there are loads of copies to be won! Good luck!
The wonderful Cristy Burne, author of the upcoming Takeshita Demons series (which looks truly brilliant) has taken time out from being a writer and a new mum to interview me on her blog. Take a look here!
I was late out of bed this morning, but I had a good excuse. Yesterday I was in Oxford for a Reading Agency Roadshow! Because of strikes on the trains (now, I just want to say that I have no problem at all with people striking if they want better pay and conditions, sometimes there's no other way to get what you want and deserve, but the trains in Norwich are so bloody awful anyway that I did think a strike on top of everything else was a bit much!) I had to get up at 5.00 – yes, there is such a time in the morning, apparently – which meant I had a full four hours sleep. However, I did manage to snatch a bit of kip on the train, which was cool. A taxi across London and another train got me to Oxford, where I met up with the fantastic Alex Milway, author of the Mousehunter books and another series due next year which looks awesome! We set off in search of the Oxford University Press offices.
Wow. The OUP offices are incredible – they look more like the British Museum than a publishing house. There's even a gym inside! But we weren't there to work out (thank god), so we hung out in reception and waited for the event to start. There were loads more authors there, including the lovely M. G. Harris, who I met before at the Guillermo del Toro signing in London, plus Ali Sparkes, who is wonderful (and who signed a book for me as "To Gordon, Oh great writer of epic poems" after something I wrote for Trapped By Monsters). We all grabbed a bit of lunch and then spent the afternoon mingling with an entire room full of librarians! It was great fun – librarians are always so cool to talk to, they're always so passionate about books, and it was brilliant being able to chat to them, even if the 'speed dating' format meant that you only had 10 minutes to talk to each group! Hopefully I'll be visiting a few of their libraries in the near future to talk about writing and Furnace.
After we'd spoken to everyone (and I'd bagged as many free books as I could carry) Al and I, plus Laura and Susan from Faber, went to Cafe Rouge for a well-earned pint and some fancy food. It was a wonderfully relaxing meal, which came to an abrupt conclusion when Al suggested we try and make the next train. This would have been all well and good except in order to do so we had to run for it. Yes, I did say RUN. I'm not kidding when I say I almost died! Al was good enough to take my bag of books, but even so I could only waddle for a few paces at a time for fear of either having a heart attack or being clobbered in the head by my own pendulous man boobs. I persevered, though, and we actually made the train with about 30 seconds to go!!! So thanks, Al, for getting me home!
It was a long old day – over 12 hours on the go for 3 hours of actual talking – but well worth the trip. It's always great to hang out with Al as we have a good chat about publishing and writing. Besides, I got the chance to read some more of Ramsey Campbell's The Grin of the Dark on the train, which is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. I'll blog about it when I've finished!
So, probably back to work today. I say probably because I'm not sure I can be bothered... I might just read instead.
I just have to tell you all about the amazing sandcastle that we built on Wells beach on Saturday! Jamie and I popped out to meet Lyns and Lucy, and Lucy's great aunt and uncle, for the Wells carnival. Mum came too, which was lovely. After watching the floats and eating several buckets worth of ice cream we wandered up the coastal path to the beach and set about creating a masterful kingdom of sand.
I love building sandcastles – it's the same Imperial part of me that loves to build my own country in Civilisation and my own city in Sim City – it's just so much fun. And I have to say that the sand at Wells is absolutely perfect for it – it's very damp and oily, which means it holds together extremely well. We bought a giant bucket and a spade and got started on a moat, adding several turrets and a gradually ascending walkway to get to the main keep. And below is the finished result (viewed from the back, that giant mound holds the main keep, the vertiginous walls too steep for any invading army, and that wooden walkway is raisable)!
This is the view from the front (with Lucy to give a sense of scale):
Here you get a better idea of the various defences. You have to enter over a narrow bridge, guarded by a 'W' formation of towers. Invaders would have to pass into an open courtyard, leaving them exposed to attack, and would need to make their way towards the middle point of the 'W'. The only way onto the path is by passing through this tower, and anyone who does has to make their way up a steep, winding path to get to yet another tower (the upper right point of the 'W'), then through that and up another open, narrow path to reach the keep (the uppermost tower). By this point they'd have all been picked off! So all in all a pretty damn awesome construction – Peter jackson and the Lord of the Rings crew eat your heart out! The towers each represented one of the elements, with special flags, and there was a magical tree in the centre of the courtyard thanks to mum. The sand was even so wet that the moat held water for a few minutes, how cool is that!!
Here's one last picture of the architects:
Anyway, I should probably do some work now...
Wes, my editor in the US, has just emailed me to let me know that James Patterson – quite possibly one of the best-selling writers in all of history – has read Furnace Lockdown (well, the US version, so Lockdown: Escape From Furnace) and loved it! Loved it enough, in fact, to give us this quote to use:
"Fresh and ferocious, Lockdown will hook boys with its gritty, unrelenting surprises." --James Patterson
How cool is that?! I've read a couple of Patterson's Alex Cross novels for adults and they've been tense, gripping reads (I love the films too), so it's a real honour to know that he's read my book and liked it. Thanks James! With any luck it will help me sell a fraction of the 150 million books that he has sold to date!
When I went down to London to meet Guillermo Del Toro I met a few people who I'd been talking to on Twitter, including the lovely Ana from The Book Smugglers. Well she was good enough to read Furnace and post a wonderful review of it on her blog! Check it out here (and have a browse of the site, it's got some really fantastic stuff on it)!
I was Googling Furnace today (yes, again!) and found some reviews that I don't think I've seen before. They were written by some teachers in Australia, which is amazing! It's so great to get their approval! Anyway, I have posted them below in case anybody is interested!
Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith (MINOR SPOILERS)
The start of this novel is gripping. More importantly, any teen male reader will just want to turn the pages as quickly as possible. A prison that is chiselled out of a huge underground cavern is an amazing setting for the incarceration of teen male offenders. The twist arrives early in the novel when it becomes apparent that prison officials head out into communities and set up potential inmates. The chapter delineations also add to the tension that the author intertwines into the plot. The temptation is to read just one more chapter. Prison life is described with great detail and with multi sensory language that engages the reader. The use of guards and their wolverine type assistants spread a fear through the ‘Furnace’. There is no escape and the inmates recognise this hopeless state. During evening lockdown, the Warden of the Furnace sends out a group of creatures called ‘wheezers’. These beings visit the cells of the teen prisoners and mark the cell bars with a large cross. The significance of this action is not only literally terrifying for the characters in the story but also for the reader. There is graphic description of the aftermath of being selected by these beings and the unfortunate cell dwellers become transformed in what appears to be secret experimentation on human teenage bodies. As in all large gatherings of people, smaller social groups develop. As expected, some of the inmates tend towards dominating as many others as possible. Alex and his small group attempt to break this standover group with violent consequences. The underground cavernous prison does have a geological flaw which is discovered by the main character Alex. Seeking the help of his cell mate Donovan, a plan of action is developed to attempt an escape. But no one escapes from Furnace! The plan becomes known to two other inmates and one of them is Kevin, the leader of the standover gang. This puts a higher risk of failure to the group but they persist. Some action packed events then occur which makes the reader feel as if there is some justice at times, no matter how small. The final chapter provides an insight into the emotional desperation of Alex and friend Zee, as they make their way to an improbable escape from Furnace. Not all of the group attempt the final step and the torment of Donovan being taken from his cell the evening prior to the escape haunts Alex. If caught, death from the Furnace authorities would result. There was only one chance for freedom and Alex took it. However, success is not guaranteed.
Trevor Dangerfield, Elisabeth Murdoch College, Vic
Set in the future, in a time of zero tolerance of youth crime, following the Summer of Slaughter, Furnace: Lockdown transports us to a sinister penitentiary, the toughest maximum security prison in the world, named after its builder, Alfred Furnace. At some twenty six floors deep into the bowels of the Earth, it is a place of violence and evil, with giant guards in black business suits, mutant dogs to chew up inmates, ‘wheezers’, with filthy coats, ancient metal gas masks stitched permanently into their skin, and carrying syringes of contaminated blood and
extension activities the book offers. The hint of a river running deep under Furnace, as a possible escape route, is also symbolic and a clever parallel. For Alex, having enjoyed Greek myths and legends at school, he must now get back over from the other side of his own River Styx to escape his Hell. Alexander Gordon Smith has indeed penned a riveting, sure-fire winner.
Alison Cassell, Qld
Hold your breath. Hold tight. This is a journey of fear and trepidation, of horrors no one would want to imagine. Worse than your worst nightmare. Imagine you were “actually in hell” for one of the crimes you didn’t actually commit. Well welcome to Furnace, welcome to a living hell. Thoughts of escape will be the only thing to keep you alive and wanting to go on. No sky, no daylight. Forget the niceties of The Great Escape. This is not a heroic tale. It is a story of survival. Every page unravels new fearful images - the wheezers with their faces removed. The fellow prisoners who might get to you first. Childhood is a thing of the past. You are taken through the terrifying journey of Alex and he needs to get out! This novel is not one I could say I enjoyed, but one that grabs you by the throat and leaves you with an insignificant level of hope. It is a novel I think may leave younger readers a little unnerved and therefore it really is aimed at 14 +. Boys would find it interesting as it takes them into a futuristic prison world for Juveniles. It deals with the moral issues about incarceration and how we punish crimes. It also examines the concept of innocence and how they are abandoned by the legal system. There is no justice, yet the legal system is expected to do something about juvenile crime. These not-so-innocents are the scapegoats. This novel would work well with a unit on “Conflict” but be warned, it does contain violent actions that may shock so be aware of your audience. Extracts from this could also be used with more academic students due to its appropriated references to Dante’s Inferno. This novel would entice boys to read and teach them a moral lesson along the way. Some may not like the uncertainty of the ending but there is a sequel!
When I began reading Furnace: Lockdown I was merely an adult reviewing some teenage fiction. I did not expect to find it particularly stimulating to the adult mind but I was pleasantly surprised! I now find myself quite a fan of Mr. Alexander Gordon Smith.
Lockdown is a thrilling read! It drew me in with its excellent writing, vivid descriptions and chilling mysteries. It is not however, a book for the faint hearted. The premise is ghastly, throwing a 13 year old boy into a violent, hell-like hole in the ground that is the Furnace Prison. If it were ever made into a film it would need a rather heavy rating for violence and horror if the filmmakers were to do the writing justice. Characters include writhing, demonic dogs, creepy sub-human guards and the terrifying Wheezers with their syringes “full of blackness and death”. Lockdown however also has emotional depth. I found myself laughing at the lighter moments, particularly the witty repartee between our hero Alex and his cohorts. The book is also not afraid to be tender. As a mother of boys the same age as Alex, I found myself invested in his emotional roller coaster, feeling proud of his wins, devastated by his setbacks and also a little sad as the hardness of The Furnace begins to have it’s way with him.
In a classroom setting, the topic of justice is opened up widely by this novel. When is it right to do what is usually wrong? How does injustice affect people in the short and the long term? Alex’s reflections of his earlier life and the decisions he made that led to his life of crime could promote excellent conversations amongst students. I am really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Furnace trilogy purely for my own enjoyment! I cannot wait for more of the deeper, darker secrets of this horrific yet fascinating place to be revealed.
Jodie Sheppard, Mountain District Christian School, Vic
Everyone seems to have been working really hard the last few weeks, so on Saturday we decided to give ourselves a break and head out to Yarmouth for the day. Once there, windswept and sunburned on the beautiful beach, we played hide and seek on the dunes. Well, they're not really dunes, more lumpy bits in the beach, but there were enough contours and sea grass tufts to hide us (even my belly remained hidden from view, which is really saying something). Jamie, being a grumpy thirteen-year-old, didn't want to come at first, and we practically had to drag him away from his dank pit of a bedroom. But once he was there, running about and diving into the sand like some kind of hyperactive beach monkey, he absolutely loved it.
An hour or so later, and with enough sand in our ears and underpants to supply a glass factory for a year, we headed up the seafront and grabbed burgers / hot dogs / bacon butties, plus eight donuts. God I love beach food! We were going to have traditional fish and chips, but being optimistic I suggested we had burgers for lunch then fish and chips for tea! Next we popped into the pirate crazy golf course for a quick game before the rain came down. Lyns had never played before (which explains a lot), but then neither had Lucy and she was ace. I, of course, scored a hole in one on the third hole. Go me! Here are the hang being all piratey and golfy:
I had to leave early to run and get the car before it was clamped, and we all got a bit damp in a sudden summer storm. But it really was a lovely day, and so nice to do something that didn't involve sitting in front of a computer for twenty hours a day! In the end we didn't stop for fish and chips, but I made up for it later by sneaking out and having a pie and chips at the chippy round the corner! Sunday was a DIY day – sanding the hall floor (which is the worst job in history) and trimming the hedge (which wasn't too bad). Unfortunately it's back to my desk now, at least until Kung Fu this evening!
There's a fab interview with me up on the wonderful Tall Tales and Short Stories Blog. There have been some amazingly interesting interviews up on this blog recently, thanks to Tracy, and it's great to have the chance to appear here!
Check it out here!
Also I forgot to mention the review of Solitary that appeared in The Independent on Sunday:
"The boys in Alexander Gordon Smith's relentlessly horrific and violent Furnace: Solitary (Faber, £6.99) are running, too, this time from a futuristic, nightmarish underground prison first described in Furnace: Lockdown. It's hideously claustrophobic as they try to escape from the "wheezers" and the very real threat of being surgically rebuilt into freaks. It ends on a cliff-hanger. Teenage readers will have to wait until October for Furnace: Death Sentence, the third part of the trilogy" Susan Elkin Independent on Sunday
I'm extremely chuffed with the review, although I'm not sure which makes a better a pull-quote: "relentlessly horrific and violent" or "hideously claustrophobic"!
Feeling very inspired after the Darren Shan news, I finally got round to finishing a book that I've been working on for a while now. It's a series for younger readers, tentatively called The Ghoultown Gazette. It's a horror comedy series, and the first book is called Attack of the Shadow Demons. I haven't really written for this age group before so I'm not sure if the book works, but I've sent it off to my agent Sophie and have my fingers and toes firmly crossed! I also sent off a picture book that I've been writing, which is just a bit of fun, really, but quite sweet! I'll let you know if anything happens!
I've also started work on a new story, for teens again. The idea just hit me last week and I rolled with it. I'm not really sure where it's going, yet, but I'm really keen on the story and the two main characters, Caleb and Amaya. It's horror, of course, and I think it's going to get quite gory. But that's the way I like it!!! The first chapter has Caleb biting a dog on the nose!!
It feels good to be getting a bit of momentum with the writing again, it's been such a busy year of shows and editing that I'm way behind when it comes to producing new stuff!
I've had some amazing news this week!!!!! Darren Shan – the one and only amazing writer Darren Shan – read Furnace: Lockdown and loved it!!! I couldn't believe my eyes when I checked out his blog (which I do most days, he updates it all the time and it's always full of really great advice for writers – check it out here) and actually saw my book mentioned! I actually did a double take, then had to pinch myself to see if I was awake. Seeing that he was reading Furnace is actually the most excited I've been since I heard the book was going to be published, and I'm not just saying that! This is what he said on his first Furnace post:
Took it easy on Saturday, just sat around, read a bit, watched a couple of films, surfed the web a while. I'm reading Furnace: Lockdown at the moment, by Alexander Gordon Smith. I'm enjoying it so far, which I'm pleased about, because Alex is a Shanster of many years standing!!! Assuming I like the second half as much as the first, I plan to give him a quote for the book, to hopefully be used in the American edition when it comes out. The book is already on sale in the UK, so check it out if you haven't already!!
SO AWESOME! But it gets better! The next day he wrote:
I read a bit more of Furnace: Lockdown last night, and was tickled pink to see myself namechecked in the book -- the characters are discussing movies at one point, and make mention of the seeing the third Darren Shan movie!! I'm hoping Master Smith has strange powers of insight into the future and that this prediction of his will be a reality in a few years time -- I'm quids-in if they make movie sequels!!!!!! It was a good job I posted that blog before spotting my own name in the book, or people might have accused me of being vain and only mentioning it because of my mention!!! I'm hoping to finish it off later tonight, and will report on it here once done.
I added his name to the book because his Darren Shan books were a HUGE influence on me when I started writing Furnace. The Furnace books just wouldn't be the same if I hadn't have been inspired by Darren, they may not even have existed! Finally Darren wrote a review on his blog:
Thumbs up for Furnace!!
Finished reading the first Furnace book by Alexander Gordon Smith. Top-notch stuff!! VERY dark, fast-paced, action-packed, with a cliffhanger to die for!!! It reads very smoothly, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay a book. I know that many people think that the mark of a great book is the complexity of the language, that if you don't have to struggle to read it, it can never be anything other than average. I think that's elitism gone mad!! The very best authors -- Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy -- always wrote in a way which was accessible to the people of their time. They were crowd-pleasers who knew how to keep their audience entertained, even while exploring all sorts of dark, complex areas and themes. It's extremely difficult to get a story to "flow", to create a true page-turner that will drag readers along without them even being aware of how much they're reading in any given stretch. As I've often said on this blog, I spend between 2 and 3 years working on any individual book, trimming it down, fine-tuning it, trying to get it to move from A to B to C as swiftly and effortlessly as possible. At the end of the day, I'm sure some people sniff at what I've created and dismiss it for being such an easy read, mistaking the ease of the read for the ease of creation. But there's nothing easy about what I do!!! The art of good writing is to MAKE it look easy! That's what Gordon has done here, the same thing that Anthony Horowitz does so well -- he put in a lot of hard work to create a swift, exciting ride of a story. I highly recommend it!!!
WOW!!!! And he compares me to Anthony Horowitz as well, who is another hero of mine!
And then, as if all this wasn't exciting enough, he sent an email with a quote that we can use for the books:
Furnace is hotter than hell and twice as much fun! Sign me up for a life sentence of Alexander Gordon Smith!
At this point I had to sit down because I thought I might collapse! I am so thrilled that one of the writers who I have admired for so long (ten years now), and whose books I absolutely love, took the time to read my book, and actually liked it! Thanks SO MUCH Darren for all the enthusiasm and support, you've made me the happiest writer EVER!
Laura at Faber has just sent me this review of Solitary from Bookbag. It's the first review I've seen for it, and I was a bit nervous about how the book would be received, but this review has certainly put me at ease! Thanks!
WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T READ THE FIRST BOOK
In this second instalment of Smith's Furnace series Alex Sawyer and his companions continue their bid for freedom, desperate to escape the hell on Earth that is Furnace Penitentiary.
Filled with hope, Alex and his cohorts battle their way through the underbelly of Furnace, convinced that they have found the way out, the path to the daylight they never thought they'd see again. But Furnace isn't done with them yet and their hopes come crashing down as they are recaptured and put into solitary confinement, deep below the ground and at the mercy of the Blacksuits, the Wheezers and the warden.
Alex soon discovers that there are other things down in solitary confinement that are far scarier than anything he's ever come across before and he knows that if he doesn't find a way to escape quickly he'll go mad, or worse. Divided by his need to escape and his sense of loyalty to his companions, Alex's struggle continues as he is forced to restart his bid for freedom even further away from the surface than before.
Smith's writing style instantly grabs you by the throat and drags you into the alternate reality where Furnace Prison exists. His well crafted writing keeps your attention and relentlessly drags you through the story regardless of whether or not you are familiar with Furnace: Lockdown, the first part of Alex Sawyer's adventures.
Fast paced and punchy, Smith barely gives you time to breathe between the action sequences of the book from the moment it begins to the moment it ends. Even when you are alone with Alex in his tiny, pitch black cell, Smith refuses to let you relax and his urgent narrative keeps your mind racing, trying to figure out Alex's next move before he does it.
The characters in Furnace: Solitary are as intriguing as the prison itself and the journey through Furnace is enhanced spectacularly by the teetering friendships formed between them as their sanity is stretched and tested in ways they'd never dared to imagine, not even in their darkest nightmares.
Personally, I found the non-stop pace tiring and by the time I was nearing the end of the novel I was almost wishing for a moment or two of calm because the constant tension seemed to become a little stale as it went on. This doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it, just that reading it became a bit like hard work in parts. Towards the end there were moments of sheer brilliance, Alex's character developing brilliantly in a way that made the whole situation feel much more horrific than it already did. It certainly made me think about some of the darker nuances of human nature and highlights many of mankind's flaws that we so often overlook.
Despite my issues with the pacing, I imagine that if I were fourteen and male I'd have lapped up every word and reached the end desperate for more. Well written, gripping and bursting with excellent characters I'd give Furnace: Solitary three and a half stars and recommend it to anyone who wants a blood-thirsty, mind-twisting romp set in a world hauntingly similar to our own.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
First, I'd just like to apologise for not writing for so long. It's been ages! The main reason for this is editing (yes, more editing, more of that truly wonderful, engaging, creative process that is editing, and no, I'm not being sarcastic at all, not one tiny little bit, there isn't one iota of sarcasm in my entire body). But the final edit of Furnace 3 is now done and dusted (er... again...) and off to the printers, which is amazing!
So this is just a brief catch-up blog – I'll write about everything in more detail over the upcoming few days!
There's been some very exciting news lately. To start with, last Thursday saw the launch of Furnace: Solitary, the second book in the Furnace series, which is soooooo cool! And because it was such an important day, Faber threw a huge party to celebrate it – everybody from the company was there, and loads of agents and writers and other publisher, and even some celebrities, and it was all hosted in a wonderful leafy garden in the middle of London. I was so thrilled and... what's that? It was actually the Faber and Faber 80th Birthday Party? So it had nothing to do with my book then? Oh... Well... Um, that's a bit embarrassing. I thought I was getting some funny looks when I climbed onto the table and thanked everybody for coming...
But seriously, it was a wonderful night, and so good to be able to celebrate the Furnace series with everybody who has made it possible, including Julia, Emily and the rest of the team from Faber, and of course my wonderful agent Sophie. Thanks guys!
I've also got three copies of Solitary to give away to the first three people to comment below!
The Booktrust Teenage Prize
But even more amazing than the launch of Solitary is the fact that Furnace: Lockdown has been longlisted for the Booktust Teenage Prize, which is one of the best awards for children's books in the country! I can't tell you how utterly thrilled I am to be on the list, and to be longlisted along with some of my favourite authors! The list is as follows:
Auslander by Paul Dowswell (Bloomsbury)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley (Bloomsbury)
Numbers by Rachel Ward (Chicken House)
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (Definitions)
Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith (Faber) Woo Hoo!
Three Ways to Snog an Alien by Graham Joyce (Faber)
The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)
Bloodchild by Tim Bowler (Oxford University Press)
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant (Puffin)
Solitaire by Bernard Ashley (Usborne)
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Walker)
Exposure by Mal Peet (Walker)
The great thing about this longlist is that it's actually quite a short list, although the shortlist itself, announced in September, will be six books long. I'll keep my fingers crossed that I make it, but there are so many wonderful books here that I won't be holding my breath! And being there on the longlist is so awesome in its own right. Thanks to everyone at Booktrust!
I've done a few events over the last couple of weeks, and they were all brilliant fun! The first was at the Sutton Central Library, and was something I've never done before - a T-shirt-making evening! It was actually the idea of Rachel Levy, who is running a series of evening events for teenagers at the library, and what a fantastic idea it was! I started off doing a talk, as usual, then we all sat down with orange prison-style T-shirts and fabric paint and stencils and made up our own Furnace-style uniforms. I had already made up my 'Skulls Rule' T-shirt, but I was so impressed with everybody else's - especially the girls who combined Mario Kart with Furnace to make up some extremely weird but incredibly cool designs. Thanks to everybody for making it such a cool day, and thanks to Rachel too for organising it, and for taking me out for pizza afterwards! It was such a fun evening!
The next event was a little different too, as it was for grown-ups! Strangely enough it was also in Sutton, but this time at Heath Books, which is a huge bookstore designed for school librarians. And that's exactly who I was giving a talk to – 30 lovely librarians from schools around London. I had a wonderful time talking about Jamie and me, and The Inventors and Furnace, and writing and reading, and loads of other stuff too. Hopefully they all enjoyed it! Afterwards I chatted to them all over a HUGE buffet – complete with a whole fish, head and all, that looked big enough to be a shark! I'm going to visit a few of their schools in October during my Death Sentence book tour, and I'm really looking forward to it! Thanks to all the librarians, and to Jackie from Heath's for making me feel so welcome!
Last, but certainly not least, I got to do a very special show – special because it took place in MY OLD SCHOOL!!! I was invited in by the librarian, Leif Ahnland, who also runs the fantastic creative writing club. It was so cool being able to go back to my old school, the Hewett in Norwich. I was there for seven years, and it's really where I started writing properly, so to visit again to talk about my life as a writer, and my books, was just amazing! Although most of the teachers I had have now left, I did see some familiar faces, and the school itself looked the same as I remember it (although smaller).
I started off with a talk at lunchtime, and it was great to see so many people there – especially as it was a gloriously sunny day and they could have been outside playing! They were a really chatty, responsive and entertaining group, and many of them were writers, so I thoroughly enjoyed the session. Then, after school, I did a horror writing workshop with the creative writing club, which was a fascinating experience. The members were all ages – from year seven right through to upper sixth – and they were all positively bursting with ideas, which was so good to see. And they were so much fun to work with. I have absolutely no doubt that plenty of these students will have books published in the future - some are already better writers than I am! I'll look forward to getting signed copies of their books in years to come. You can check out their brilliant writing on the creative writing club's blog here. It's definitely worth checking out as they're putting together a fascinating anthology which is totally unique and looks like it might be a big deal!
It was a great day, made even better by the fact that I didn't have to travel across the country to get there and back - in fact it was a two-minute walk away! But a huge thanks to Leif and all the students for making it such fun, and the best of luck to you all with your writing! Here are some pics (and that's my 'Skulls Rule' T-shirt from Sutton):
I love that reaction to the Wheezer!
There aren't too many events planned for the next few weeks as I really, really, really have to do some writing! But I'm always open to invitations, and have a new events page on my website for anybody who is interested in booking me.
I'm getting a bit blogged out now but I'll just give you a quick update on the other stuff we've been up to. I haven't seen much of Lynsey for the last few weeks because she's been furiously writing a story to make the deadline for the Bridport Competition. She won it before, a few years ago, and fingers crossed she'll win it again this year! It's great to see her writing again, anyway.
We have been doing lots of sporty stuff, however, mainly so that I can shift this bulbous jellyfish that seems to have settled around my midriff. Kung Fu is going very well - we all took our first grading a couple of weeks ago and now have an official white fringe on our sashes, which is awesome! As well as this we've all been playing badminton, which I thought was a slow sport that grannies played in the garden over summer, but which turns out to be lightning quick and extremely knackering! Hopefully with all this exercise I'll have a six-pack in no time, which is actually pretty important because I keep making bets with Jamie for stupid amounts of money that I'll have one soon. I already owe him a small fortune! But I'll definitely have one by Christmas... :-)
Anyway, that's all for now, I'm sure there's more news but I'll post again soon with another update!
Wes, my editor in the States, has just sent over the cover treatment for their edition of Furnace: Lockdown (Escape From Furnace: Lockdown over in the US). How cool is this!!! It's totally different to anything I was expecting, but it's utterly eye-catching and chilling and unique, and just brilliant. I love it!
Let me know what you think...
Anyway, loads been happening, I'll blog again soon!
Yesterday was an amazing day, I got to meet the legendary Guillermo del Toro! He has been a huge inspiration for me, creating such darkly fantastic visions and telling such wonderful stories, and it was so exciting to actually meet him in person. He was signing books at Forbidden Planet, and despite the fact the queue was almost round the block he took his time with each person, shaking everybody's hand and talking to them. He was very impressed by my Flash Gordon T-shirt, telling me that the film had inspired some of his creations in Hellboy. So cool! I also managed to slip him a copy of my book, which I know was a little cheeky but I couldn't really pass up on an opportunity like that, could I? Maybe he'll read it on the plane home and think 'I'm going to make Furnace into a film!' You never know... Anyway, he is a wonderfully personable and friendly man, and I am convinced that he is now my best friend.
It was a really smashing day all round. I finally had the chance to meet up with some intermates who I'd met through blogs and Twitter, including the wonderful Liz and Mark, from My Favourite Books, the delightful M. G. Harris, author of The Joshua Files, three other lovely bloggers, Gavin from Next Read, Ana from Book Smugglers and Sharon from Dark Fiction Review, the charming Matt the Librarian, who I have met before at a Faber event, and the delightful Kaz Mahoney, a YA writer whose first novel is currently doing the rounds. They were a fascinating bunch of people to hang out with, all absolutely obsessed with books, which is brilliant! We all went for lunch at Wahaca, a Mexican place near Covent Garden, and just chatted about writing and publishing and the like. Truly awesome!
Here is everybody:
After that I headed up to the Royal Academy to see the Utagawa Kuniyoshi exhibition, which was just wonderful. His prints are spectacular, especially the ones full of ghosts and skeletons and demons and bloodshed. I was hoping to buy a couple of prints but they hardly had any left, and none of the ones I wanted, boo. It finished today, but if you're in London and at a loose end I'd definitely recommend it. The only drawback is that it was so busy. This was my favourite print, spooky!
So anyway, I haven't blogged for a while, sorry about that. It's been a chaotic few weeks of editing, trying to get Furnace: Death Sentence – the third book in the series – finished. Now I absolutely love writing, the flow of it, the way you feel pulled along by the words, like you're on a raft bombing down a category five whitewater stretch, with periods of calm in between the rapids then moments of sheer explosive drama as you catapult off the waterfalls. I love being on that ride with the characters, feeling out of control, not knowing what's about to happen or who will survive. I LOVE it! But I hate editing. For me it totally ruins the flow, ruins that adventure. Instead of speeding along the river at full pelt feeling the spray in your face and the adrenaline in your veins you are plodding along a pathway occasionally splashing in a puddle or picking dog poo from your shoe. Okay, that's a crap analogy, sorry, but you get the idea. It's just a slow, lumbering, unrewarding process and I HATE it! But at least it's done now, Furnace 3 is wrapped up and ready to go to print, which is soooooo exciting!!!!
And speaking of exciting, Furnace Solitary is now back from the printers!!!! Which is awesome!!!! Seeing it next to Furnace Lockdown on the shelf is amazing, they complement each other so well. I can't wait to see all five in a row! I only have a few copies at the moment, but there are enough to send out to a couple of people and I'll be sure to do so. I imagine another box will be arriving very soon, so the rest of you won't have to wait for long!
Because of the editing I haven't been doing a huge number of school visits, but I did have the pleasure of visiting Monk's Walk School in Welwyn Garden City last week. I had a brilliant time, thanks to all the brilliant Year Nines and especially the enthusiastic Year Sevens who made the visit so much fun (and yes, Abel, I do remember how to spell your name...). I hung around for some lunch afterwards with Adam, the librarian, who is doing some really innovative and brilliant things in the library to encourage the kids to read. And a thoroughly lovely chap as well! Thanks for the invite, it was a fantastic day!
In other news, my good friend Tim has just had his first book published, which is actually a book about getting published. It's called 'We Can't All Be Astronauts', and has the hilarious subtitle 'Your friends are successes. You're a failure. One last chance to reach for the stars...' It's one of the funniest books I've ever read, and also very poignant too, and very frank about the Publishing Dream in a way that I think all authors should understand. But mainly just laugh-out-loud funny – I was getting some very strange looks on the train yesterday as frequent snotty chortles burst out of my nose. It's also pretty cool that I'm mentioned in the book, albeit as one of Tim's 'talanted, spawny, b*****d friends!' This makes more sense when you know that the jist of the book is Tim's lifelong quest to be an Author, and the fact that quite a few people in our friendship group got there first, including me, as Tim writes: 'Gordon, whose first novel came runner-up in a national televised competition, then got bought for an advance five times the size of the winner's – a book that he wrote in a week.' I really can't praise this book enough, and it is worth reading by all writers, published or unpublished.
Another bit of fantastic news lately is that I am now a godfather! Me, a godfather, who'd have thought it?! My great friends Luke and Sally have just had their first baby, a very healthy boy called Aidan John Wright. I'm so thrilled for them, and I can't wait to meet my godson and start teaching him bad habits! Thanks guys for the honour of making me godfather, I'm stoked!
What else... I guess most of my free time of late has been spent hanging out with the gang and doing fun stuff during half term. My cousin Allie was down for the week as well, which is always brilliant as he's a total star. He's a musician, and his latest tracks are just stunning. I'll see if I can get permission to post one here. We went to see Coraline 3D, which is superb, if TERRIFYING. We went to see Night at the Museum 2 as well, which was disappointing. I loved the original, but this just felt remarkably flat and unoriginal. I hated Frank Azaria's cheap jokes most of all, I think, and the whole script and performance just felt lazy. Having said that, Lucy loved it, so that was cool. We also went to the beach, which was gorgeous in the sun, although I think in retrospect it was maybe a little too cold for swimming in the sea...
I'm bound to have forgotten something that I meant to blog about, but never mind. I'll try and stay more regular in the future, I bought some fig rolls yesterday so they should help... With the editing now over I'm going to try and get back into the swing of writing, as it's been a good long while since I did any. The trouble at the moment (not that it's any trouble at all, actually, it's wonderful) is that I've just got too many ideas and I want to write them all, so I start something, then start something else, then something else, and nothing gets finished! But I'm going to pick something this week and stick to it!
See ya soon!