Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book 3: working title…

moirai_by_pandorasconviction-d4njggqWho doesn’t like a sample of the next book at the end of a book they’ve just enjoyed reading? I know I like a wee taster, if for no other reason than it tends to prompt me to pre-order the next instalment so I don’t miss out.

Well I decided in “Fey Flame” to do just that, it was an easy move since I’d already written the first four chapters of the next book before I published ‘Fey Flame’ (NaNoWriMo needed me to get an extra 15,000 words done before I’d be able to submit).

Well roll around ‘Spark of Dreams’ and we get a wee dilemma: book three doesn’t (/didn’t) have a title, let alone a few chapters to work from. Aside from a fairly detailed idea of what will be happening in the next book, up until tonight, there wasn’t really any substance to it.

Well now there is, I now have some actual, solid, story writing down for it and I’m pretty excited to see how this one plays out.

Anyway, without further ado, may I present to you the working title of book three…

“Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate”

I say ‘working title’ and it is just that, I’d love feedback on what people think of it, especially if you have views on what children might think to it.

I’ll be asking my eldest son in the morning but it’d be great to get a wider perspective on what people think. The story will centre around the families of Fynn, Alyssa, and Granny Reusen and will tell us more about these characters and the magic they wield. What’s more we’ll also get a revisit from the ‘Wishmaster’ (though he may be less nasty in this book).

Anyway, it feels great to have that dealt with. I now have a complete book (along with epilogue and taster) to edit, some artwork to figure out to show off the books and hold them together, plus I’ve got book three taking shape before my eyes. All in all it’s great having a sense of where I’m going next.

Also, don’t forget there’s still the option of getting to appear in ‘the Spark of Dreams’ as a ‘zombie’ (plus some of these characters might get the chance to follow on into book three). There’s not much time so if you’d like to see your name appear in the book I’ll need to know in the next couple of weeks. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Spark of Dreams

wpid-dreams_by_whisperfall-1.jpgSo the spark of dreams is finished, over a cup of tea at about 6:30 this morning I sat down and completed it. I’m currently writing up the epilogue and the taster of the (as yet unnamed) third book. I can’t believe that I have another book under my belt and it’s not even half a year since this all started.

There are a few things that I’m going to have to figure out pretty soon and the one that keeps jumping out at me is the cover. I want it to be subtle and intriguing, with just one symbol of what the book is about and a solid framing effect that I’ll duplicate (with a variance of colour) in future copies of ‘…the Fey Flame’ as well.

This sounds like a simple task but coming up with a universally recognised symbol for dreaming (apart from perhaps a cloud) is not as easy as you might think. So for the next wee while I’ll be editing (which I’m pretty comfortable with) and designing covers (which is a little intimidating).

The big issue is that if I make a mistake with either then it’s on every copy I get printed, so I want to be sure about what I send to the printers. I’d actually welcome any suggestions that people might have for the cover so if you’ve got your thinking cap on pop your suggestion below. The two concepts I’m playing with at the moment are a lumbering outline of a sleepwalker, or a picture of a small torch hidden under a pillow (yes Jack’s torch makes an extra appearance in ‘…the Spark of Dreams’).

More and more people seem to be hearing about ‘…the Fey Flame’ which is just brilliant and has given me the much needed boost I needed for the last leg of ‘the Spark of Dreams’. Book three is a very skeletal plan at the moment and books four to six (Thea’s stories) are coming to me like distant little smoke signals but the great thing is that it really feels like this series could keep on going (if people keep on reading).

Anyway for now I’ll sign off, I’m away to a ceilidh tonight with the family, should be fun. I’ll post again soon with updates on ‘the Spark of Dreams’ (and hopefully some sketch ideas for the cover. Thanks for reading, all the best John

A place that’s safe

wpid-imag1289.jpgWe all need a place where we can feel like ourselves. Sometimes as an adult it’s hard to remember how difficult it can be to find that place. As adults these places can even be kind of portable. We can take our identity with us in the clothes that we wear, the books we have in our bag and a whole host of identity affirming things like tattoos and piercings.

What’s more we can alter our environment through choice by picking a favourite coffee place, a spot at the library, even simply a seat in the staff room.

However, children lack this luxury (and I’m not trying to condone letting your child get a tattoo or get a piercing here). A lot of children, especially in early primary school, will have a whole collection of decisions made for them: their clothes will be chosen for them, their meals decided in advance by someone else, even what they do with their day is largely out of their control.

Kids go to school, they then get rushed off to whatever club or group their parents have signed them up to, in amongst that you wonder how they manage to find something that feels like ‘theirs’. In the midst of all this jostling its inevitable that children may sometimes need a secret place or, if they’re lucky (or are an only child), they might even get a room of their own. It sounds like a difficult task yet somehow we’ve all gone through it and we all managed to find that place.

When I was a kid (with a younger sister who got into everything) my safe places could sometimes get kind of small. Sometimes it would be an old biscuit tin filled with niknaks and half broken toys that I didn’t want to part with. I sometimes wonder if this was the beginning of the traditional ‘man’s bit box’ (typically filled with screws, odd bolts, parts of old electronics and a host of possibly dud batteries.

However, I also felt safe and like myself in big, open, natural, places like forests and the ‘beaches’ beside rivers. I always used to imagine all kinds of weird and wonderful stories there, somehow these places seemed more connected to magic. It’s probably why so much the books are set in these kinds of places.

I can’t help but wonder if my experiences are unusual or if feeling safe and more like yourself in these kinds of places is quite common. Where did you feel most at home as a child? What places offered you the most adventure and did you have a niknak box? As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

The last Discworld book

Tiffany-Aching-Poster-600x686Just a couple of weeks ago one of the greatest authors to have ever lived passed away far far too soon, after battling a disease that must have been like the stuff of nightmares. Terry Pratchett opened my eyes in regards to fiction. Before Pratchett I was a staunch Enid Blyton reader but Pratchett exposed a whole ream of fictional genres that I’d never touched on before.

This brings me to his last offering for us all. OK some of you may already know about this but I just found out so let me just enjoy it. I had genuinely expected him to stop at ‘Raising Steam’ and take a well-deserved retirement but he left us with one last glimpse of his incredible universe to enjoy.

‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ will be the last Discworld novel and the fifth in the Tiffany Aching series (genuinely my favourite, closely seconded by the watch) and it’s due out later this year. You can check here, here, and here for confirmation. I simply cannot wait, Tiffany Aching is one of the best girl characters I’ve ever read and if you aren’t familiar with her adventures you really should get ‘The Wee Free Men’ and get up to speed.

Pratchett was a prolific author and wrote at a pace that inspires and terrifies me. Every author of my generation owes him a debt. We grew up with the Nomes, Johnny Maxwell, and the Carpet People and we ventured into the monstrous, hilarious, and tragic wonder of the Discworld, being exposed to fantasy, crime fiction, love stories, high-end philosophy, and most importantly a rich array of the wonderful and terrible things that humanity has to offer.

When ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ comes out don’t expect to hear from me until I’ve finished reading. Feel free to share your Terry Pratchett memories in the comments below. As always thanks for reading, cheers, John


thea pencilThe polar-bear-girl seems to be a favourite among many readers. In a weird way I feel like a fan too, I know that in reality I created her and that she lives in my mind but I still can’t help but feel that I’m not entirely in control of her (and at least a few of my other characters as well).

This strange sensation is responsible for my change in story arc, not that anyone but me knows what I was planning for the books but suffice to say that what is currently in the works is very different from my original idea for the book series. In many ways I liken it to when I became a parent: I had expectations of what it would be like, what my relationship with my children would be like etc. and in some ways I was right but in many, many, unpredictable ways I was way off the mark.

It’s the same with my characters, I put them together in my head, trying different combinations of personality traits, tastes, etc. to see what functioned well for the story but perhaps because of the pace of writing that Nanowrimo requires of a writer I somehow ended up with some very independent characters. Perhaps the most noticeable of these has been Thea.

Originally I wanted a girl who would not be subordinate, I distinctly wanted to avoid anything damsel-like, I wanted her to have a degree of authority on what was going on so I made her older than Jack and way more informed about Fey. At the same time I didn’t want a mini adult so I tried to ensure that, emotionally, she is still able to be affected by events. The result (I hope) is a very human girl with some very inhuman/non-human traits. This combination is a lot of fun to write and I’ve already decided that the non-human part of her needs its own story arc.

Books four through to six will now be themed around Thea and the first of them will be out early next year. I’m still deciding whether to simply call Thea’s books ‘Thea Icebärvolk and the…’ or to stick to something snappier like ‘Thea’s … (a Jack Reusen Adventure)’. Part of me wants to hold on to the Jack Reusen link since the books are set in the same world (and we’ve already got this lovely web site fixed as to show the books off) but there’s plenty time to think about that.

What do you think to giving Thea her own trilogy? In general what female characters in children’s literature do you see as good role models for young girls? Feel free to jump into discussion in the comments below, all the best, John

Book 2 Progress

wpid-imag1323_burst005.jpgThis is just a quick wee update. I just started writing the final chapter, we’ve had zombies, a race against time, heroism, and some big revelations about Jack’s world. To be honest I’m pretty pleased about how this book has gone there are obviously some kinks to be ironed out but that’s what editing is for.

I expect that tonight my first draft of ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ will be complete. I’ve made the decision this time to do the first edit run before I hand it over to my beta testers, that way I’ll (hopefully) avoid wasting their time with typos etc. and instead they can focus on the story and tell me about continuity errors and the more glaring problems in plot that I might not have noticed.

Book three is also an issue for me now as I want to put a preview at the end of book two just as I did with book one. With this in mind I’m going to have to set some facts in stone about a book that’s only in planning at the moment. The alternative (and the option I’m warming to) is that I start work on book three whilst book two is getting beta tested. That way I’ll know what’s coming next and I’ll even have time to add some tiny hints inside book two before it goes to press.

Another issue I now have to deal with is cover design. Now that there will be two Jack Reusen books sitting side by side on the shelf I want to be sure that they look unified in some way. With that in mind I think I’ll be putting together a overarching theme to the cover art for the Jack Reusen books.

Once its decided I’ll get book two’s artwork finalised and once that’s off to the printers I’ll rework ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ to have a fancy new cover. I’ll also take that opportunity to deal with the odd wee typo that has come to light since it went to print.

Once again I’m in the strange little window at the end of writing a book where I feel less and less like I have any say in what happens. The characters and the plot have taken me to a point, and if I try to fight against it the book will sound convoluted. Right now I’m fully caught in the flow and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you’ve finished reading ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ yourself please feel free to contact me in the comments on here, I’d love to hear what you thought to it. All the best, John

How big can a character get?

MS400016210446SThere are characters that stretch across the globe: Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse, Elsa but where are they? That might seem an odd question but think about it. What makes these characters so big? It could be the fact that they’re available on almost any type of media you could want (that clearly helps). However the thing that I personally think makes these characters so absolutely huge is that, in a way, they live inside the minds of a huge portion of the world’s population.

We’ve all had that moment when we’ve watched a film adaptation of a book and thought that the actor playing a character is nothing like the person we pictured. We already have an idea about that character, we’re connected to our imagined image of them, and we can even feel a little annoyed at the casting people for making such a wrong call.

This goes to show that as soon as we’ve encountered a character we develop our own version of them and when millions of people know a character that makes for a huge multi-layered version of them spread over our planet.

OK so Jack and his friends aren’t in the same league as these characters, currently there are just a few dozen copies of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ out there in the world but I am starting to get feedback trickling in about the book and one thing is becoming quite clear: I’m coming to the strange realisation that I have very little control now over the way that readers think about my characters.

In many ways they all kind of have a life of their own now. As the adventures of the book play out readers will inevitably be picturing Jack, Thea, Fynn, Sparky, Connor, Alyssa, Granny Reusen, and even Harold in ways I had never imagined.

It’s both amazing and very intimidating to be told that someone likes one of the characters because I’m still writing them and people might not agree with the direction some of the characters go in. I have to walk a fine line between character development and straying so far that people will feel cheated.

I made the decision from the very start to let my characters age, more than that I wanted them to develop, I want the events of each book to matter to them,  in light of that each story will change them irrevocably. I can’t even imagine what this process feels like for big authors like Rowling and Landy (Skulduggery Pleasant).

For these authors there are literally millions of versions of their characters out there in the world. They must have to have nerves of steel when making changes and developing their characters. The only other alternative would be to play it safe like Disney did with Mickey and not develop their character at all over the course of nearly ninety years (considering Mickey’s success I guess there’s something to be said for ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it).

Personally I want my characters to feel human and a big part of that involves letting them develop but that doesn’t stop it from being intimidating when in the back of your mind you know that some readers might not be entirely happy with the changes you make.

Do you have any favourite characters who were spoiled by a writer/author? Are there some un-aging characters that bug you (personally I’d love to see the Simpsons grow up)? Feel free to comment below, all the best, John

The zombie horde approaches

zombie-499924_1280Zombies in an early-reader chapter book are proving an interesting challenge. I’ve just finished chapter eleven of book two (‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’) and I’m having a lot of fun with my ‘zombies’ (as I’ve already said I’m a big zombie movie fan). I like to think I’ve kept the content creepy and exciting without making anything that would count as inappropriate for a younger audience.

Even if some scenes prove to be a little too grown-up I’ve got plenty of opportunity, once the book is done, to go back over it myself and make changes. Then comes the input of my grown-up ‘beta testers’ (who should iron out anything else I’ve missed) and then there’s my young beta testers (who will be brutally honest of something doesn’t work). The younger beta testers will provide the real test to see if the thrill is sufficiently high without leaving any hints of terror (I’m not trying to write a thriller).

This past week has been a bit manic, to be honest I’m amazed that I’ve had time to get any writing done, but I’ve managed to get through a few chapters. Though I’m sad to admit that I’m not finished the first draft yet despite the fact that I’d planned to be at this stage.

I have to keep reminding myself that missing a self-imposed deadline is no excuse to stop trying to reach my goal. I’ll have to pick up the pace soon though as I need time to edit, finalising the first book for publication took nearly a month of editing for ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘. The longer it takes me to finish my first draft the later into April we’ll be before we see the finished product. I’ll just have to keep on plodding on.

That’s me for the night. I’m going to see if I can fit in some writing tomorrow morning before the kids get up, but recently they’ve both been up before seven each morning which doesn’t leave me much room for writing. I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I’m not bombarded in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning.

Anyway progress report 27,184 words and counting amounting to 11 chapters in total completed. I’ll keep you updated as the book grows. Out of interest what time of day do you feel the most focussed? Would be interesting to chat about in the comments below, I always used to be a night-owl but I’m starting to enjoy being up early to write as the birds start singing. Anyway feel free to share your own feelings in the comments below, all the best, John

That was brilliant!


Just finished my talk at Our Lady’s RC Primary School, Stirling. All the kids were fantastic, loads of good questions and they seemed to really enjoy meeting Jack.

I had been particularly worried about what the older kids would think to the book but I got big laughs for a good few bits (don’t worry they were supposed to be funny).

I would do that again in a heartbeat. If you’re a teacher, or are connected to a school in some way, and you think the children at your school would enjoy a book talk/author visit please let me know.

Grabbing a cup of tea in the staff room now, I’ll post again soon with an update on the progress of ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’. All the best, John

World book talk

Today is the day. In a few hours I’ll be off to my first school book talk. I have no idea what to expect, I’ve chosen a few snippets from the book but aside from that I’m planning on asking the children themselves about their favourite books and about their favourite ways to make their own stories.

On top of that I’ll talking about writing and how the Jack Reusen series started. I’ve got about an hour to fill with each class so I’m hoping this’ll help keep them entertained.

I’ve got just over twenty books left and for the first time I’m hoping it’s enough. Anyway it’s all very exciting, wish me luck, cheers, John (I’ll post after the event to say how it went)