Today was another casting up at UEA, which was great. We had some brilliant actors turn up, and we're definitely going to use some of them in the film. I'll post more information here, and on the Fear Driven Films blog as well, soon.
Of course the most important birthday in the month of February is obviously mine, although I was a bit nervous about it this year because I turned 30! It's a huge milestone, but to be honest I've been looking forward to it because I was a bit bored of being in my twenties. I feel like I've been a twenty-something for AGES!
I've had a lovely day, mainly just chilling out. Lynsey came over in the day and I unwrapped some pressies, including an awesome game for the PS3 which had all the old games I played as a kid on my Megadrive (including Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, soooooo cool)! Then after school we all went round to Mum's for some macaroni cheese. Home-made macaroni cheese, of course, with bits of bacon in. Heaven! Mum had made a huge cake, and Lynsey and Lucy also made me 30 little cupcakes, so I guess the diet will start tomorrow...
After that we all came back to mine and watched War of the Worlds. Then, after everybody had gone, I watched Grand Designs and went to bed. Rock and Roll!
I got some more brilliant pressies, though. Lucy bought me this awesome Dalek Sek voice changing mask, which is horrible but in a really cool way. Jamie got me the new Silent Hill game, which I have been looking forward to for so long. I got some beautiful artwork from Dad and Sophie, and quite possibly the coolest fountain pen in the world from mum. It's red and gold, but the red looks like an ocean of blood, prefect for writing horror books!
Thank you everyone for making my birthday so special!
I was delighted to see another fantastic review for Furnace today, this time by the lovely Liz on her My Favourite Books blog. Thanks so much for your kind words, and I'm sorry I burnt your Sunday Lunch...
Here are my thoughts: Buy Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith right now - put it on order on Amazon, nag your parents, nag your partner, and just buy it! It is that much of a roller coaster of a read full of action, a wronged hero (who in turn is not entirely innocent but he is likable), it is well told, it has engaging characters, an incredible and awful situation, a hellish location, complete with gang fights, lockdowns, a diabolic jail, a warden dug up from the bowels of hell, and an escape plan to rival The Shawshank Redemption.
There is so much that is brilliant about Furnace. The author, Alexander Gordon Smith, has clearly got a very devious and twisted little mind which he uses to great effect, messing up his main character's life. Alex is one of the bullies at school, he also breaks into houses when the owners are out, so he's pretty much a nasty piece of work, not entirely someone you would want to read about. But here, lies the genius of the author - Alex's character has more redeeming qualities than you would give him credit for and once you realise how much trouble he's in, you forget about the fact that he's not entirely the nicest kid on the block and you get behind him. Alex's voice is fresh and strong - there is no swagger, there is no posturing - he is just a kid who made a few stupid choices and because of that, he gets sent to the Furnace.
The Furnace as the setting is excellent. There is plenty of friction - imagine it: thousands of boys of various ages, thrown together in a crevice deep beneath the earth, forgotten by the world above, unable to tell anyone of the horrors of what happens in the Furnace. No one has ever escaped - ever. There are jumpers, kids who prefer suicide to living in the Furnace. Others join the two dominant gangs in an attempt to be safe and be part of a family again. Others just take one day at a time, hoping that they don't get taken at night to who knows where.
The background to the harsh treatment of young offenders stems from the Summer of Slaughter when groups of children roamed the streets, killing scores of people. New stricter laws were brought in to combat youth crime - if you act a hooligan, you will pay for it. There is no nanny-state - you get tossed in the Furnace, with no recourse, no chance to get bail - you get sent there, forever.
It is harsh reality for Alex to deal with - but he chums up with his cell-mate and learns the ropes of how the Furnace works. He toes the line, but his mind is at work on a way to escape. He does not give up, no matter what he faces. With a handful of friends he plots and plans, all the while being witness to the horrors of the Furnace.
It is a book for slightly older readers (12+) - not necessarily for bad language or difficult language, but probably for the nightmare situation the characters find themselves in. The Furnace is someone's worst nightmare come true. There are remnants of The Running Man, Shawshank Redemption and Resident Evil (those bloody dogs!) and an imagination worthy of Frank Miller, Mike Mignola and Guilermo Del Toro. In other words, Furnace: Lockdown will make an excellent movie - it has elements of the movies I've just mentioned, but more importantly, it is its very own creation and a shocking non-stop ride that will leave you wanting more. Reading for boys (and adventurous girls) does not get better than this! I think Mr. Smith should get a Batman badge for excellence, creating both an interesting main character and protagonists (baddies) with enough menace to give you the hibbie jibbies just reading about them on the page and a storyline that keeps you pinned to the pages... to the extent where your Sunday lunch ends up being a bit crispy as you accidentally forgot about it in the oven, as you were reading...
It's definitely birthday season! Happy birthday Mum!
I can't believe it: Jamie turns 13 today. 13?! He's a teenager!!! And acting a bit like one now too... But he's still as sweet as ever. Happy Birthday, little bro, have a great one!!!
So it's only a matter of days now before Furnace is officially launched and this is where the nerves really start to set in. I lie awake at night thinking: oh no, what if nobody buys it, or what if they buy it and hate it, or what if somebody spots a massive plot hole that we all missed, or what if it is just rubbish?! Argh!
Which is why it was such a huge relief yesterday, when I was browsing Google in search of anything Furnace related, that I discovered some very positive early reviews! They all seem to be from Australia, as the book is being released there on the 5th March too. The first is from a lovely reviewer called Tez Miller (her site is full of great reviews and is well worth a look)! It goes as follows:
There's no leniency for child offenders in Lockdown, the explosive first novel in Alexander Gordon Smith's new series.
The infamous Summer of Slaughter, in which rioting kids killed 69 people, sparked new laws, and the consequences of disobeying them are extreme. Alex Sawyer knows he deserves punishment for thievery, but not for murdering his best friend. He's been framed, though no one believes him, and he's incarcerated for life in Furnace Penitentiary.
Alex isn't the only innocent prisoner in this genuinely frightening setting, and it's no surprise he's not the only one who wants out. Together, he and his newfound friends and foes begin hatching a plan to escape... unless they get killed first, which is likelier than one might assume.
The author has created an astounding and outstanding novel. Alexander Gordon Smith has one sick imagination, but it makes for riveting reading, combining realistic and relatable protags with the scariest, creepiest antags I've ever read. The blood watches are tense, eerie and utterly unforgettable.
To explain more would be spoilers, but this futuristic horror YA series is set to be an absolute cracker. The only real problem is that this first book ends in a cliffhanger, and Book 2 isn't due out until October. (Even later in North America, you poor dears.)
I love this book so much. Start pre-ordering now, and get excited. Reading doesn't get much better than this.
My favourite bit is about my 'sick imagination', which is true! Thanks so much for the great review, Tez, and for putting my mind at rest! And thanks too to these other reviewers for saying such great things:
'I am thoroughly impressed with this novel and would particularly recommend it to those who are fans of action and adventure and are thrill-seekers. I am not a thrill-seeker myself but I certainly loved it and recommend it...This book makes your heart-race, your blood pound and your hands clammy all in one sitting!'
'I thought this book was an amazing, creative piece of work. Rarely have I come across a book that manages to build such an oppressive and intimidating atmosphere.'
'Alexander Gordon Smith's Furnace is a brilliantly written book. It plays on our fear of being incarcerated for a crime that we have not committed. With many unforeseen twists and turns throughout the story, it will have you gripping the edge of your seat.'
Yesterday Lynsey, Lucy, Jamie and I had our first kung fu lesson, which was brilliant! Lynsey and I are huge fans of kung fu movies, and a couple of weeks ago, after watching Kung Fu Panda (yes, I know Kung Fu Panda isn't considered a classic in the field, but it is great fun...) we all decided we'd love to have lessons.
After much perusal online we discovered a great school in Norwich, the Hung Sing School, which teaches a style known as Choy Li Fut. We booked our first class, and turned up rather anxiously yesterday evening to be met by our new Sifu, Neil. He was a lovely guy, and a very good teacher, especially considering that none of us knew anything about kung fu (apart from the fact that a panda can be picked as the dragon warrior if he truly believes he can). Actually there were more than a few resemblances between Jack Black's roly poly panda and my rather graceless movements on the mats, but hopefully that will improve over time (along with my fitness, I should say, as it's incredibly good exercise)!
So we're aiming to go back every Monday, now, slowly becoming mega kung fu masters. Haaaaiiiiii ya!
A lovely friend of mine, and fellow Faber author, Alex Milway is organising a children's book festival in Crystal Palace in April. He has pulled together a fantastic lineup of writers and artists (including yours truly), and the whole thing looks brilliant! Find out more at the official blog, and be sure to book your tickets soon! Well done to Alex for doing such an amazing job, especially as he is also writing a number of new books. I don't know how he does it!
It's been a really busy week getting things ready for the launch of Furnace next month. One of the things Faber wanted to do was put together a trailer for the book, and as we're making a film later in the year I thought Jen and I might as well give it a shot.
The first thing we needed was some props. I managed to find a great mask that looked like a wheezer, and a gas mask which I trimmed down to fit then stitched on. It didn't look like much sitting on a table in the middle of the day, but when I put in on, blacked out the eyes, wore an old slicker and charged down a corridor in the middle of the night it was terrifying!
Jamie volunteered to be the poor soul caught breaking into a house, and I have to say he played the burglar so well that I began to get suspicious... We filmed it at Jen's house, as she had a perfect long, dark corridor, and we must have shot a dozen or so takes. It was at that point that I began to regret buying an airtight mask and clamping a non-operational gas mask on the top, as I could barely breath! After half an hour or so I was staggering around like a drunk, hyperventilating and making some very real wheezing splutters!
It was definitely worth it, though, as when Jen had finished the edit the trailer looked fantastic. It's short, but it's very scary, and the fiery Furnace logo looks brill. I just want to say a huge THANKS to Jen for putting so much work into it! Check it out on the homepage, and at my new YouTube channel.
I'd also like to say thanks to Norwich HEART (and Jen again) for letting us take some author photos at the Norwich Guildhall, which is an incredible old building which used to be a jail. Jen and I spent an hour or so down in the cellars taking some shots, although we had to leave after a while because we both became convinced that the place was haunted! With all those cells, and all that history, I wouldn't be surprised... Well worth popping in if you're passing by, though!
OMG! Emily from Faber sent me an email on Friday saying that there was something interesting in the post, and she wasn't lying! I was so excited that my Friday night's sleep was plagued with anxiety dreams - including one where I took Furnace out of the envelope and it had the blurb for somebody else's book on the back!
However, Saturday morning came and after a lovely midmorning fry-up with friends I returned home to see a book-sized envelope lying beneath the letterbox! As with both Inventors books I could barely control my hyperventilations as I ripped it open and there it was in all its stunning glory, FURNACE: LOCKDOWN. Yay!
It is so exciting to see the finished book. It looks incredible, with a striking cover that is sure to send chills up a few spines. Thanks to everybody at Faber for putting so much hard work into it, and all the other people who have helped bring the book to life. I'm so grateful to you all!
It should be in the shops very soon, with an official launch date of March 5th. Of course I'll let you all know as soon as it's out there. I've also had a sneak peek at the website, which will be launched in February complete with an Escape from Furnace game that looks AMAZING!
Anyway, I'm off to stare at it for a while longer. But it's great to know that the books are ready.
The incarceration is about to begin...