Bid on Bloody Everything

In a bid (oh come on) to raise money for Marie-Curie, whose nurses look after terminally ill patients and support their families, a bunch of authors are auctioning off signed and dedicated copies of latest releases, including books from Ruth Ware, Rowan Coleman, Julie Cohen, and moi. If you’d like the copy of The Queen of Bloody Everything, you have until March 25th to show me the money by bidding here.

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Joe All Alone at BAFTA

About five years ago I wrote a book about a boy from Peckham. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, he turned real. And now he’s out in the wild and being screened at BAFTA before the series starts its run on CBBC. My mind is more than a little blown. It’s on Saturday April 14th at 2pm. And you can book tickets here.

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The Queen of Bloody Everything is born

This one has been a long time coming. I’ve been writing for children and young adults for seventeen years. But for various reasons I’d shied away from grown-ups. Partly because I had so much to say about teenage years – it’s a time when it feels like the volume and contrast on the world have been turned up. Partly I didn’t feel grown-up. As if my own development had been arrested somewhere around 1988 so how could I write about grown-up matters?

But a few years ago, I began to realise my growing fascination between the teenagers we once were – and try to shuck off – and the adults we become. I studied adolescent identity in philosophical and neuroscientific terms for a doctorate. And from the PhD, a story began to emerge. About a girl who, like so many of us did, desperately wants to be someone else, and starts trying on new lives for size – especially that of her best friend who lives in the big house at the bottom of the garden.

This is the story.

And this is how it begins…


So how shall I begin? With Once upon a time, maybe. The tropes of fairytale are here after all – a locked door, a widower, a wicked stepmother, or a twisted version of one at least. But those words are loaded, tied; they demand a happily ever after to close our story, and I’m not sure there is one, not yet.

Besides, Cinderella was never your scene: “Don’t bank on a handsome prince, Dido,” you would sneer through the cigarette smoke that trailed permanently in your wake; that cloaked you, tracked you, like a cartoon cloud in Bugs Bunny. Like Pigpen’s flies. “If they do bother to show up it’ll be late, and then they’ll only beg or borrow. Or worse.” And the twelve-year-old me would roll her eyes, like the girls in books did, and think, “Those are your princes, mother, not mine. And I’m not you.”

But I am, aren’t I? Though it’s taken me four decades – half a lifetime – to admit it.

I used to rail against my inheritance, the pieces of genetic jigsaw puzzle that make up half of me. I thought I could overwhelm them, drown them, if I found him – the man who’d given me his pale skin, his plumpness, his pathetic hope in one true love. When he failed to show up on the doorstep or in any of the faces I followed in town, I turned to friends to fill the gap – stole their habits, their hair colour, their hatred of soul music. I turned too to characters I borrowed from books in the hope I could carry off their courage, their capability, or at least their slick, smart one-liners. But acting was your forte, not mine, and one you failed to parcel up and pass along, offering me instead small ears, an extended second toe, and a lifelong dislike of marzipan. Amongst other things.

But back to the story. I know how it begins now. And where. This, the first words will spell out in black and white Times New Roman, is the story of us, of you and me. And how we got here – to this striplit room on the fourteenth floor of a hospital in Cambridge. Some parts of the tale you will not know at all, or even be able to spot yourself in the cast. But, as Pied Piper, that is my prerogative – I can dance a merry dance to other houses and other cities to show you scenes that shaped our path. And, though you might not take a starring role, you are ever-present, your influence reaching across years and oceans. I know that now.

Some parts you will recognise, though they will appear distorted, skew, as if seen in a fairground mirror, or through time-thickened glass, told as they are from the haze of memory and my myopic gaze. If you asked Tom, or Harry, they’d give you a different version: a shrunken picture, like a view through a wrong-ended telescope; or rose-tinted, perhaps, embellished with sequins and a glitterball that dapples the scene with some kind of magic.

But this story – our story – has no enchantment. There is no fairy godmother, no genie, no amulet or grail.

There is just us. Me and you. And a tangle of secrets and lies, of second guesses, of half-formed hunches Chinese-whispered into tangibility; of poorly-timed honesty, and misplaced blame.

But I am getting too far ahead of myself again.

Let’s go back to the start, to the seed of it all.

Are you listening carefully, Edie? Then I’ll begin.

You can order the book here. And read on for the first reviews.


  • The Independent ‘Best 10 new novels for 2018’.
  • Red magazine ‘Best 10 of 2018’.

The book expertly follows funny and chubby six-year-old Dido into adulthood, swinging from gentle comedy towards something sadder, and wiser… a must-read. (The Independent)

This heartfelt coming of age novel is a wonderful example of Spangles Lit, books recalling seventies childhoods in all their polyester glory. (The Daily Mail)

A bittersweet coming of age novel, The Queen Of Bloody Everything perfectly captures the pangs of adolescence, first love and growing up in a small town. You’re in for a treat with this one. (Red magazine)

A bittersweet delight. Perfectly captures the awkwardness and longing of those who don’t quite fit in. (Sarra Manning, author of After the Last Dance and House of Secrets)

I bloody adored this perceptive, funny, unflinching novel about growing up, love, sex, mothers and everything. (Kate Eberlen, author of Miss You)

So good… more than lives up to its outstanding title. (Rosie Walsh, author of The Man Who Didn’t Call.)

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A face for radio

Many years ago, when I still thought I’d lead a glamorous life in the meejah, I read radio news for a living. And it’s a medium I adore – the focus on words, the invisibility of it, so that, when you’re talking to thousands, it still feels as cosy as your own bedroom. Yesterday I got to be on the other side of the desk at Broadcasting House, away from the twiddly buttons and faders, and sadly without cans. But it was the most fun talking about books, and politics, and swearing in Essex as a small girl.

(It was BBC London, not Radio 1, but thanks to my friend Dave I got to play in all the studios, and wave at Scott Mills, who ignored me pointedly despite our heady halcyon days at Heart 106.2 lamenting the drive shift together.)

And you can listen here. (PG Warning: contains mild swears.)

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The Queen of Bloody Everything (including the Indy’s and Red’s Top 10)

I know the rule: don’t read reviews, good or bad. That way you don’t risk heartbreak, or ranting mintily on Twitter. But that way you don’t get the ridiculous overexcitement that comes with this: making both Red magazine’s and the Independent’s Best 10 New Novels for 2018.

This is what Red had to say: A bittersweet coming of age novel, The Queen Of Bloody Everything perfectly captures the pangs of adolescence, first love and growing up in a small town. You’re in for a treat with this one.

And the IndyDido has grown up under the shadow of her mother Edie, who swears, drinks, has sex and doesn’t mould herself into the conventions expected of motherhood or suburban Cambridge. But as Dido grows up, falls in love with the boy next door and moves on with her life, she has to wrestle with guilt about abandoning her mother and fear about her health. The book expertly follows funny and chubby eight-year-old Dido into adulthood, swinging from gentle comedy towards something sadder, and wiser. This book is a must-read for an exploration of a modern mother-daughter relationship – a topic that is all too often left unexplored in today’s fiction.

(And yes, I know Dido is six, not eight, but I think I can live with that.)

You can read the full Independent article and find out who else made the Top 10 novels here.

And Red’s picks here.

And you can preorder the book here.

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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

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