Joe in the post

In the run-up to Christmas, opening the post is always accompanied by a little frisson of anticipation, invariably dampened when I find it is only catalogues or credit statements or a card from someone I have never met addressed to someone who once lived here.  (Thanks, ‘Carol’.) But today the brown paper parcel delivered by hand contained something better than any present. Inside was a poster, and one with my name on, and Joe’s. But even more thrilling and disorientating than seeing our names in type is seeing the star himself. This is a boy who started out as a stranger in a sleeping bag outside an arcade on Rye Lane in Peckham, became a character who walked and talked in my head, and is now being conjured up by a real live boy – the brilliant Daniel Frogson, who is all the best parts of the Joe on paper, and all his own added real excellence besides. I give you the real Joe All Alone, coming to CBBC in 2018.

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The Carnegie Feeling

I have never been one of life’s winners when it comes to sport, barely even scraping third in the 1979 St Mary’s Primary sports day yoghurt-pot-and-umbrella race (actual race, involving running wildly around the field with an empty Ski pot skewered on a black umbrella, also featuring the ‘doughnut race’ in which we fought to eat a dangling doughnut in as short a time possible, in the days when Jamie Oliver was eating school chips a few miles down the road, not outlawing them). But, while our esteemed headteacher seemingly had little regard for a) health and safety and b) what is considered a standard athletic test and what is not, what he did value was words. And, just a few months after this staggering sporting non-achievement, I felt the thrill of my first publication when, having written an extra verse for one of our school hymns, Rev Roe typed it up for me, photocopied it, and stuck it down in every single copy of Come and Praise.

I have been chasing that feeling ever since, getting the same flush of achievement when I type ‘the end’, when I see my first page proofs, when I walk into a bookshop and see the first print run on the shelves, when I see someone reading – actually reading – one of my books. And, more rarely, but equally thrilling, when I see a title on an award longlist, or shortlist, or, as today, amongst the nominations.

For Everybody Hurts to be up for the CILIP Carnegie Medal (the Olympic gold of children’s publishing) is not something either Anthony McGowan or I entertained when the seeds of Matt and Sophia’s story were sown in a few minutes of snatched conversation in the South Bank Centre. We were uncommissioned, and unsure where we were going most of the time, writing for the sheer joy of words on the page, ping-ponging chapters back and forth over weeks and months, and eventually three years. So, regardless of how much further we get, today is the icing on the cake. It is the thrill of a typed-up hymn verse glued down with Copydex, and so much sweeter than that dangling doughnut would ever have been.

For the full list of nominations for both the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals, click here.

To buy the book, click here.

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First lines and first chapters

Find out how writers from David Almond to Frank Cottrell Boyce to Sue Townsend have grabbed their readers from the off, and kept them turning pages long into the night. And have a go at writing your own first page too.

I’ll be running an hour-long workshop on Saturday 2nd December at Plymouth University as part of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook day conference on getting published.

You can book tickets here.

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Stay gold, Ponyboy

There’s something almost alchemical about the moment a hard copy of your book is finally pressed into your hot hands. A strange kind of magic that has turned the base material – people and plot and places – that has swum for months in a kind of story soup in your head into, if not solid gold, something solid, and golden to you. Today I got to hold and then take home a bound proof of The Queen of Bloody Everything before it’s sent out into the world. So for today, at least, I am glittering.

Preorder the book

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The making of a mixtape…

Rob has it right in High Fidelity: “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

There are a lot of rules. And I probably broke some. But here’s one I made earlier. From Soph to Matt in Everybody Hurts, and in a funny way from me to my co-author Tony McGowan.

And from Duke Ellington to The National to Elvis…

Click here to listen

Buy the book

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Want to write middle grade?

Want to know how to write middle grade fiction? Want to know what middle grade fiction is and why the bejaysus we keep stealing words from the Americans? Then join me (and Bloomsbury Publishing’s Writers and Artists Yearbook) in this 2.5 hour workshop session as I talk you through what makes great middle grade, and work with you to create compelling characters that will drive your plot.



When: Wednesday 4th October 2017, 9-30-12

Where: Bath Festival of Children’s Literature.

Click here to book tickets

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Everybody Hurts – a story of love (and ping pong)

It began, as so many great love stories do, with an argument. This time, however, there was no prom, or even eyes meeting across a bar; rather boy (Anthony McGowan) met girl (me) on Meg Rosoff’s blog, shouting about Jane Austen, and bonfires and something to do with the colour pink. The precise details escape me now, though the row itself made the pages of the Times, but underneath the sniping something must have struck us both, because six – seven? – years later we’ve made something pretty amazing together. Everybody Hurts took three years to write – itself a labour of love, each of us ping-ponging chapters back and forth, not knowing entirely where our story would take us, other than a disused pipe in a Leeds back street. But every minute of waiting and wondering what the next ping would bring was worth it. In the words of the wondrous Rae Earl: ‘Two masters of their craft have created something so special here . . . I didn’t want to leave Matt & Sophia . . . How refreshing to read about this subject matter in a way that feels so real. Funny, touching – just wonderful.’


You can buy the book here. And read the opening chapter below.



One upon a time, I made a list of things I do not believe in. There were a bunch. Hey, I’m a cynical kind of girl. But these, in no particular order, were my top five.

  1. A benevolent god. Or any kind of god, really. But benevolent really is the icing on the cake of bulldada.
  2. That anyone called Rainshine Wilson, Yuffy or some Nigerian guy named Professor Mahuba can any more cure a brain tumour than they can bring back the dead or enlarge my non-existent penis.
  3. Fake tan.
  4. Conspiracy theories (no, the FBI did not cause the Tsunami, blow up the twin towers or force Backstreet Boys to reunite).
  5. Love at first sight.

If you believe in that last one – the whole eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room shit – you might as well start arguing for the existence of the tooth fairy, Santa or Jesus. It just goes against science, as well as the law that unless you share some basic grounding in music appreciation then you’re pretty much doomed to failure. And I know that both liking the hidden track on some obscure Deaf Beats album doesn’t mean you’re fated, but it’s better than basing an entire relationship on the fact your stomach lurches because of the way his hair falls into his eyes. What if it’s just indigestion?

Lexy said I was being provocatively cynical (she found that one that on a blog). And I know she thought it was just the tumour talking. But then she would. Because she counts on life playing out like it’s Hollywood-scripted and has fallen in love more times than she’s fallen off her latest diet. Jesus, she spent the whole of GCSE year looking for her Heathcliff; worked her way through half a dozen of boys from the wrong side of the tracks in the hope one of them would have leading man potential. It’s Leeds, I said, not Hollywood. You’re not going to find a hero working down Kwikfit.

Besides, Heathcliff’s a jerk. And love blind at best, and a deceit at worst. The idea that we’re all half-formed, lost without a boy by our side, or preferably one step ahead of us opening doors and fighting wars? Screw that, I said to anyone who would listen. There’s nothing missing from me. I’m whole, complete, and I can open my own doors and clear my own pathways. Thanks all the same. No The Great Gatsby is where it’s at. Just fine dresses and gin and everyone playing at being someone else. Love in West Egg is so clearly an illusion, and if you think for a minute you can cross that great divide in disguise or otherwise then you’re a fool, nothing but a beautiful fool.

Until I clocked him. And he clocked me. And my steadfastly cynical world was tilted swiftly off its axis, and I landed, bruised, bewildered, in a bed of bloody roses.

I didn’t see that one coming.

Not on a wet Friday afternoon in March against the Dettol-scented backdrop of a hospital canteen.

Not with a boy nearly a year younger than me and a whole record collection short of anything resembling taste.

Not with a boy like him at all.

But then love, like I say, is blind.

And I, it turns out, am a fool after all.


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