ABOUT

 From an early age I’ve always been into creative writing. Not when I was a new born baby, of course, but when I was about four. Or possibly five. Or maybe six.  The first real memory I have of writing anything reasonably substantial was when my mum and dad used to take my sister  and I on holidays to the North East of Scotland (which is where our family roots lie). The drive used to take 8 hours or so, and from the age of about 9 or 10, I’d generally pass this time arguing continuously with my sister. But – and this is the significant bit – if there was ever a brief window between the arguments, I’d often lounge in the backseat, scrawling away on a notebook (I’m talking about a book made of actual paper, kids – not a small laptop) making up stories. In a recent foray into the loft, I discovered one of these notebooks; much of the content was utter drivel, of course, but there was one story - a thing about Vikings – which I reckon has stood the test of time surprisingly well, and which I may yet turn into a full-length novel sometime soon…

 

  At senior school I did ok at English, though I don’t remember anyone – teachers or pupils – particularly raving about my writing ability. I must have stood out a little bit, however, as, at the age of about 12, I was given a ‘spot’ every afternoon when the class came in after the dinner break where I (with the help of a motley cast of mates) would perform a poem, song or play I’d written before the afternoon lessons began. Again – it was all daft nonsense (a spoof of Macbeth caIled McDougal was one horror that springs to mind) but I was the only pupil in the class ever afforded this privilege, so the form teacher must have seen something there. “Jamie’s Story of the Day” went on for several weeks before I was involved in an unsavoury incident in the  playground (which we needn’t go into here…) and the gig was cancelled as a form of punishment.  

 

  Despite this temporary setback, I continued writing through my teens, through university and into my twenties. It was still daft nonsense – I don’t think I’ve ever written anything else to this very day. Towards the end of my degree at Bangor University I met my wife to be, and a couple of years later we had a daughter. The years that followed were pretty hectic and went by in a flash. I did all kinds of jobs during that time, in offices, warehouses – I even once spent seven months running the fruit and veg section in a small supermarket with a lovely man named Mohammed Ali!  

 

  And then I reached my early thirties and thought “Right!” Or should I say “Write!”

  The first book I started working on wasn’t a children’s book at all – it was strictly for grown-ups, and I may still finish it one day. But then I started working on this thing called The Tale of the Miserous Mip. A Miserous Mip was something my daughter sometimes used to call me if I was being a bit grumpy (which was extremely rare – honest!) and it kind of stuck in my mind as a good name for a monstrous villain. I sent it round to a few agents, but didn’t really get anywhere. To be fair on the agents concerned, it was (and still is) a very strange (if utterly brilliant) book.  

 

  Undeterred, I began work on my next masterpiece, a full-length novel called Jimmy Black and the Curse of Poseidon. Just as I was polishing this off (we’re in about 2011 now, by the way) I happened to read a newspaper article (I think it was in the Sunday Times) about this wonderful new “Kindle” technology where authors could just upload their work and release it worldwide without the need to go down the traditional route of wallpapering their living rooms with rejection slips from literary agents. Still smarting from the rejection of The Mip (I’m a very sensitive fellow, you see, who cannot easily cope with rejection) I decided I’d give it a go and uploaded both The Tale of the Miserous Mip and Jimmy Black to Amazon. After all – what was there to lose? What happened next was that nothing happened. An odd few downloads here and there, but essentially nothing to shout about. And so, slightly deflated, though with my self-belief essentially intact, I began a third book – Frogarty the Witch.  

 

  The thing that troubled me most at that particular time was that I knew that this new book would take me months to write, and I feared that any slight momentum had been created by The Mip and Jimmy Black would by then have vanished into the ether. Racking my brains for a solution, I remembered a story I’d written a few years beforehand. It was a thing about a fat old horse and his grumpy friend, Colin the Cuckoo, simply entitled Norbert. I think I’d left it to gather dust on my hard drive in the belief that, at under 5000 words, it was too short to release as a chapter book in its own right. But, I reasoned,  perhaps it will be ok as a stop-gap to keep my small gang of readers happy until Frogarty the Witch is ready for release…

  And so I uploaded it, and again, not much happened. Not for two or three weeks, anyway. Then I woke one morning (I’ve checked my diary and it was 25th June 2011) to find that Norbert had suddenly taken off in the charts. To this day, I’m still not quite sure what happened, but in the space of a couple of weeks, it went from having less than 50 downloads to something like 20,000 and was storming the charts in the UK, USA, Australia and Canada. At one point it was Number 1 in the “Children’s Paid Fiction” category in the UK i-tunes bookstore with Stephanie Meyer’s Eclipse and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox at no’s 2 and 3 respectively! It only remained in the top spot for a few hours, but I made sure to take a screenshot my computer screen with my camera, just to prove that it actually did happen…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   It didn’t take a master strategist to work out what I needed to do next – I needed to write more stories about Norbert. Which is what I precisely what I did…

 

  Unfortunately, constantly coming up with new plotlines about a friendship between a horse and a cuckoo is no picnic, but I stuck with it, toiling away, day and night, and have written 5 Norbert books to date – Norbert, Norbert’s Summer Holiday, Christmas with Norbert, Norbert to the Rescue and Norbert’s Spooky Night.

 

  Sometimes, I find I need a few weeks’ break from the tubby old horse, so I’ll write other things like Roger the Frog for a change of scene, then I find I’m able to turn back to Norbert, Colin, Finbar and co. fully refreshed.  It was my original intention for there to be six books in the series. I’m working on the sixth now - at least I should be, but got distracted so am writing this instead. Will this next one be the last? I suspect not, but we’ll have to wait and see…

 

  Usually my first draughts of any book are pretty bad. Utter garbage would probably be a fair description of my typical first attempts.  After two or three rewrites, the book in question has usually improved from being utter garbage to mere twaddle.  And so I’ll rewrite it again and again (and again) until it eventually reaches a stage where it might be deemed fit for public consumption. Speaking of which – I suppose I’d better push on and do some actual work! To be continued...

 

 

NORBERT CHART 2

 

Long, long ago, on a cold and snowy November's night in Stoke-on-Trent, England, a child was born...

Yes folks - you guessed it - it was me! (though I don't remember a thing about it...)

Stoke-on-Trent (for those of you who don't know) is a city in the middle of England and is famous for being the home of pottery-making giants such as Wedgewood, Royal Doulton and Spode, and the best football team in the known universe - Stoke City! Norbert enthusiasts may be interested to learn that Stoke City fans sing a rousing song called "Delilah" every time the team scores a goal...    

Until the age of 4, I lived in an old rented farmhouse with my mum and dad which was nice because it enabled me to toddle about in fields and what not. My dad was a founder member of a seventies rock band called "The Sutherland Brothers", so there was a nice "hippy" vibe going on with spaced-out musicians cropping up in the most unexpected of places. Photographs from around this period reveal my strong penchant for tartan dungarees (see ajacent picture).  

 

Then we moved to a bigger house nearer the city and I had a sister and a dog (or it might have been the other way round?). Soon after she was born, dad's work took us off to the Isle of Man and Spain for a while before returning to Stoke, where I lurked until the age of 18, at which point I tootled off to study French at Bangor University, North Wales.  

Dungarees