The cover copy for Furnace 4 has just arrived! Spoiler alert!!!
We escaped Furnace, but the nightmare followed us.
We broke out of Furnace but we’re still not free. The city is in lockdown; roads sealed, police everywhere. And there are worse things here – creatures of death sent to bring the world to its knees.
I’m turning into one of them, into a monster. To put an end to this blood-crazed madness I have to travel into the heart of the darkness. I have to find Alfred Furnace before he finds me.
Soon the whole world will be a prison.
The cover copy for Furnace 4 has just arrived! Spoiler alert!!!
This is a piece I wrote for the Guardian Family section three years ago about writing and brothers. I'd totally forgotten about it!
"I still remember that icy day in late February, 1996, salting the path while I waited for Mum to return home, and not doing a very good job in the hope that she and the new baby would slide right on past the front door and into someone else’s life.
I was sixteen, and after teenage years of unparalleled clumsiness around girls I was finally growing into the person I’d always wanted to be. There were big things ahead, but all of a sudden there was a very little thing threatening to undermine my newfound confidence with some overpowering noises and odours.
And it wasn’t just the fact that there was a baby in the house that was upsetting. The new arrival confirmed – in a way that several years of living together and even marriage hadn’t done – a relationship between Mum and a man who was twenty years her senior, and who was separated from my fourteen-year-old sister and me by what seemed like ten generations, not one.
I had wanted things to change, but not in this direction. And each ear-piercing scream that penetrated the fabric of our small bungalow was a painful reminder of the way things were. (And it’s true what they say, a baby’s cry cannot be ignored – even by a sixteen-year-old with a new stereo and a penchant for Metallica.)
It was only some weeks later that I began to appreciate this tiny, wriggling creature that had invaded my life. It was partly the fact that he now had a name, Jamie, and his wrinkly little body was fleshing out like a balloon gradually being filled with air – both of which made him, in my eyes, a person not a thing. Of course, it might also have had something to do with the fact that Mum decided a new baby with the vocal strength of an opera singer was not the best way to help two teenagers revising for their exams, and had decided to move into her husband’s house down the road.
Far enough away not to interrupt Neighbours, but close enough to see every day, Jamie suddenly became a very welcome addition to the family. Still holding on to the vestiges of my teenage annoyance, I tried to maintain an aura of grumpiness every time I went round to visit him, but he would only need to burble or burp or sneeze or laugh and I’d feel my heart melting. I couldn’t quite believe that he was my brother, that we were related, and each time I saw him I realized with greater clarity that the big things I had planned were actually ridiculously tiny in the grand scheme of things, and that this little thing was one of the most important people in my life.
So my plans changed. Instead of packing my bags and finding the university that was geographically furthest from my house – standard practice post-A-Level – I decided to stay put. By this time Jamie was a toddler, and we’d see each other most days. The mere thought of going for weeks, maybe months, without Lego inventions or water pistol fights or trips to the toyshop or endless adventures in the garden was unbearable. I knew, without being aware of it, that my little brother was an anchor, one that kept me close to everything and everyone I loved. I can’t even begin to imagine where, and who, I’d be now if he hadn’t come along.
But while he anchored me physically to a little corner of suburban Norwich, imaginatively he opened up whole new worlds. Seeing Jamie meant putting the stress and strain of life on hold. I could forget about work, with him there were no burgers to flip, no clocks to punch, no letters to file, no rear ends to kiss – there were only adventures waiting to be experienced.
We would cast our boat away from the real world, sailing to fantastic islands, to long-forgotten times and places not yet discovered. We would battle terrifying foes, invent gadgets with miraculous powers, take rides on breathtaking flying machines or dive to the very depths of the oceans on the backs of sea monsters. We would be pirates, astronauts, heroes, villains, saints and devils, a myriad of vocations all united by the fact that whatever we were, the world was ours.
Carl Jung claimed that “the debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable”, and the truth is that without the daydreams that Jamie and I shared then my life would have taken a drastically different path. Each adventure reawakened my own childhood fantasies, taking root in my imagination and evolving until my head was full of stories. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but these ambitions had been put to one side while I focused on what I thought were the grander, more important aspects of living – money, security, employment, education. Now each of these stories was proof that play was more important than pay, and it was the only sign I needed to pack in the job and pick up a pen.
And so the creative union that Jamie and I had forged in our minds blossomed into one that filled countless notebooks with ideas. Each daydreamed story became an adventure on paper that we would return to again and again, almost obsessively. We spent hours together, discussing characters, plots, young heroes and charming villains – translating worlds into words – but it was the years of play which allowed these tales to practically write themselves.
We dreamed of being published, but although we didn’t consciously acknowledge it the real rewards of our creative relationship lay elsewhere. It is true that you can learn more about yourself and your loved ones from an hour of play than a year of conversation, and these imagined games let Jamie and I communicate about the significant things in life without the need to reference them directly. For both of us these games, and the stories they led to, became a way of working through the issues that were bothering us, the things we found difficult. After all, when troubles are reduced to games and words, you have control.
I guess that, most importantly, the time that Jamie and I have spent playing and writing has shown me that the most important relationship you can have with a child is one where creativity and imagination rein, where stories are as important as real life. It’s this freedom which teaches the young how to cope with everything that life throws at them, which proves that anything is possible, and which reminds adults that, in the words of Pablo Neruda, “the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.”
Of course, like all stories, this one has another side to it. Two years after Mum gave birth to Jamie, she had another child. By this stage, Jamie and I were inseparable, and I was delighted at the thought of having a second brother to recruit into our games. But the night Matthew was born we discovered he had Down’s Syndrome.
I know it shouldn’t make any difference – brothers are brothers, after all – yet it does. I remember the first time I met him, now eighteen, holding his hand and trying to will the condition out of him. It’s something I still try to do, even though I know that I’m allowing the disorder to define him. But it’s so difficult not to. Matthew is now nine, and his vocabulary is limited to a few words. And with no language I don’t know how to find my way into the adventures that take place inside his head. I want to create stories with Matthew the same way I do with Jamie, to forge the same spirit of play, but the imaginings of my youngest brother seem to be his alone, a private viewing that has become a barrier between us.
It gives me no small amount of shame to see the differences in the relationships I had with my brothers. I spent so much of my free time with Jamie, but didn’t know how to act around Matthew; I took Jamie on trips every week, but I couldn’t handle Matthew on my own; I wrote stories with Jamie, but I only ever considered writing a book about Matthew, not with him; and while Jamie anchored me, I felt lost with Matthew. It was enough to make me hide the “World’s Greatest Brother” keyring Jamie gave me every time I went round to see Matthew.
But writing books with one brother has also brought me closer to the other. The end result may be all about words, but the process of creation is far more important, and I know now that creative play isn’t limited to vocabulary. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that because Matthew cannot express his stories, he doesn’t have any. But language is a form of knowledge, and according to Einstein knowledge is limited. Imagination, on the other hand, is boundless, eternal, it encircles the world and isn’t restricted by anything, including Down’s Syndrome. I guess in that way, it’s just like brotherhood."
I was at a book launch last week for a great friend of mine, John Osborne, who has just published 'The Newsagent's Window'. It's the story of a year in his life "spent living vicariously through newsagents windows" and it's a fantastic read. While I was there I got talking to another friend, Tim, about working from home, and he mentioned something that I've been meaning to blog about for a while now.
I always found organisation the hardest thing about working from home. I've never been very good at planning my time, and if I have more than one thing to do it can often throw me into a total spin. I panic, I reel, I throw tantrums. Even if I have, say, just two things to do they tend to crash around each other in my mind like two boats on a roiling ocean, caught in the monstrous pull of some vast, hungry Charybdis, spiraling into complete and utter splintery destruction. And if, god forbid, there are more than two things on my daily agenda then I may as well not get out of bed. The moment I try to work out what I'm going to do first those items separate like a flock of startled birds, becoming a storm of flapping wings and pained squawks that sits like an impenetrable white noise over my futile attempt at planning.
Mixed metaphors aside, there is a very easy way of dealing with this. So easy, you might think, that it isn't actually worth writing down here. But I think it is. So many of my friends are self-employed, and when I speak to them about this one simple technique for staying in control they usually look at me like I've told them the answer to two plus two. The ones who have never made lists go away laughing, but the next time I see them they treat me like I've given them the secret to never paying taxes again. It's so simple, I think, that people don't think it's worth doing. But it is!
Make a list.
See, simple. So simple that you're probably thinking you don't need to do it. But you do, it's essential. As soon as I got into the habit of making a list – on paper, with a pen – of things I had to do that day I found that I could manage my time. Not only that, but managing time became easy and, dare I say it, fun. Instead of flapping around like a wounded bat, unable to see how I would be able to make it through the day, I discovered that I had a purpose – to cross off as many items on the list as possible. My agenda was no longer an impenetrable vortex of 'to dos' that had no start and no finish, a hurried risotto of ingredients that were so numerous and so mixed that I didn't know where to start. It was a list, a simple, beautiful list with little boxes next to each thing. I could focus, I could see clearly. I would do one thing and cross it off. Then, like a machine, I would move onto the next. And the next. Marking a neat little 'x' became an obsession. I became relentless in my organisation, like some creative writing terminator. I would complete today's itemised mission in an orderly and efficient manner. I was the Arnie of getting things done.
Now I have no doubt that anybody reading this who does work from home will probably already make lists. But even if there is one person who decides to give it a go then this post has been worth it. Try it. It really will change your life.
I've just ticked the 'Post List Blog' item on today's page of the diary, one of seven items. Six have already been checked. Seven glorious x's, one sigh of complete satisfaction, and done.
No, hang on a minute, it's the SUN!!!! It's been so long I barely recognised it. What an amazing few days, though, it felt like summer! I forced myself to put work to one side in order to make the most of this bizarre phenomenon. On Thursday Lynsey, Lucy and I went to Thrigby Hall, which was so cool. It's basically a small zoo, but there is an impressive range of beastly beasties on display. Tigers, alligators, panthers, monkeys, you name it! My favourite had to be the otters, though. They were rolling around in the sunshine and they just looked so cute! Well worth a trip if you've never been before.
Lynsey and I also managed to escape to the beach on Saturday, which was lovely. We drove up to Sheringham and it really did feel like the middle of the summer holidays. I was even tempted to go for a swim... But decided to settle for a beer and an ice cream instead. We finished off the weekend with the first family barbeque of the year. It's always so nice to have the family over for burgers and beer, and even though it was getting a little chilly by the end of the day it was still great fun!
Alas, it's a little cloudy today so I took that as a sign to get back to work. Furnace 4 to edit and Furnace 5 to write, all before the end of May. I'll have to lock myself away in the gloomy confines of my office if I stand any chance of meeting that deadline. Still, at least I caught a glimpse of the sun before I close the door behind me...
Authors have surprisingly little input into the covers for their books. At least that's been my experience. It's one of the things I was actually quite surprised at when my first book was published, especially because at Egg Box we always gave authors a large amount of input into their covers, although the final design was always up to us. I don't necessarily mind too much, I mean I'm not a great designer and if I tried to design my own cover it would probably look daft (I'd probably go for a big picture of my face). But all the same it's nice to have a say. I know quite a few people whose experience of jacket design has gone a little like this:
Publisher: I've attached the cover rough to this email, could you let us know whether you like it?
Author: I've had a look and it's not really the sort of thing I wanted. Could we maybe go for something different?
Publisher: Ah, well I'm afraid it's a bit late in the day for that. This is your cover.
I feel I've been pretty lucky with my covers at Faber. I honestly love them, and the cover for Furnace 4 is no different. Although saying that, the first version that my editor Julia sent me wasn't quite as dramatic as I'd have liked, because it featured what looked like a window cleaner... If you look very closely you can see him, cleaning the U of FURNACE:
And in close up:
I wrote back and said that I loved the idea but wasn't too sure about the window cleaner. I mean there is no window cleaner in the book! I was even pondering whether to add a window cleaner to the book just in case it was too late to change the cover. Fortunately, however, there was no need. In the next version of the cover the window cleaner had been removed and replaced by a policeman, which is far more fitting really. It's not that I have anything against window cleaners, of course!
There are some interesting stories about past Furnace covers too (involving gorillas), I'll post them here when I have a chance!
It's been a crazy couple of months, so it's great to be able to have a little time to, as Lucy calls it, chillax. Which I hope is a hybrid of chill and relax, not chilis and laxative. As you can see, I'm currently using my time to think up incredibly funny jokes.
Why has it been so busy? Well, February was almost entirely spent writing. From the 28th of January to the 27th February (my birthday) I locked myself away with my laptop and at the end of the month emerged with the first draft of Furnace 4. It was a crazy, breathless ride and I hope that shows in the book. It is fairly relentless, and gory, but the action scenes are some of my absolute favourites in the series so far – including an insane battle at the end. But of course I can't say any more about that! Julia, my editor at Faber, asked for a couple of minor changes (mainly bits that were too gory) and I've made them, and now the book is with Trevor, the copy editor, who will polish it up. Then it will be on the shelves in October! Here, exclusively, is the cover – it's not the finished version but it's close! What do you think?
I love it!
After one day off I began an Easter tour on 1st March. Now I'd like to blog about this separately, because so much happened, but to give you a summary it involved four weeks, 30 events, 2,000+ kids, 1,000 miles in the car, 11 train journeys, two terrifying flights, a dozen taxis, lots of walking, five hotels, ten full English (and one full Irish) breakfasts! It was all great fun, though. Well, apart from the flights... Thanks to everyone who helped organise this, and everyone who came to listen! I'll blog in more detail soon!
So April has been much less busy, although there has been lots of catching up with things. Lots and lots. But it hasn't all been work. I've ordered a new bathroom, which is awesome as mine is in a terrible (and terrifying) state. You pretty much catch diphtheria every time you brush your teeth. They're coming to install it next month. There have also been a few more birthdays (it's the birthday season in our family), including my littlest bro Matthew. Here he is blowing out the candles on his cake!
The next big birthday is Lucy's later in the month. She's going to Laserquest which is so cool! I can't wait! The weather has been getting a little better so we've been spending a fair bit of time at the park, especially as Lucy has a brand new bike. And we even ventured to the beach this week, although it was freeeeeeezing! We had an awesome game of pirate crazy golf in Yarmouth. Well, awesome except for the fact that Jamie beat me!! Lucy kind of won the day though as she managed to get a hole in one.
Anyway, that's kind of what life has been like so far this year. I'll be throwing myself into Furnace 5 very soon as the deadline for it is the beginning of June. It's going to be really weird writing the final book in Alex's adventure, especially as I don't have a clue what's going to happen to him! Keep your fingers crossed for a happy ending...
I'm also working on an exciting new project, a publishing company called Inkling Studios. It's something I'm setting up with Lynsey and Lucy, and although it's still in its very early days it should hopefully be great fun! I've put the logo below, and I'll tell you more about it soon!
But first, a couple more days of chillaxin'!