Monthly Archives: August 2016

Where building and storytelling meet 

Let me introduce you to the Lego ideas pop up book; a proposed Lego concept designed by Grant Davis and Jason Allemann. I posted a link to this on the Facebook page a few days ago but I thought it would be worth a wee blog post too.

Lego has always given kids a chance to stretch their imaginations but the story element appeals in a way I hadn’t considered before. 

With a pop-up book and Lego in one item it’s like an invitation to develop a story and step into the world of books. What’s more it’s also a refreshing step away from tie-ins with TV shows and movies.

Don’t get me wrong; my kids watch their share of TV, movies, and YouTube videos. However this doesn’t disrupt their enjoyment of a good book or an immersive hour with a box of Lego, so it’s nice to see a Lego set that takes this into account.

Lego have some amazing tie-in sets with characters from movies and TV shows (we have a few ourselves) but there’s something special about this proposed set. It’s innovative whilst feeling traditional and offers a great source of inspiration for young story tellers.

Lego ideas is a site run by Lego that lets people vote for the sets they’d like to see in stores. If you like the look of this one, and would like to be able to buy it as a set one day, you can vote for it here. (and no I’m not affiliated with the designers in any way).

What would you put in your pop-up Lego book? What type of book was your favourite as a kid?

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John


It looks as though there’s going to be a wee free men movie! If you haven’t encountered the NacMacFeegles/wee free men before pop over to this post to get filled in.

The wee free men and their ‘Hag’ (a young witch by the name of Tiffiny) are some of my favourite Terry Pratchett characters from the whole of the Discworld. They’re tenacious, fearless, and more than a little crazy.

The news on who’s producing the movie makes it even better. As a child of the 80s I was exposed to a huge range of Jim Henson creations from Sesame Street, to the muppets, to Fraggle Rock, to Star Wars, and the Labyrinth. Jim Henson Studios are apparently developing the movie and I can’t imagine it being in better hands.

Henson’s son Brian is producing the film and Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna will be writing the screenplay so here’s hoping both can continue their parent’s legacy.

It doesn’t sound like there’s an expected date for release yet but fingers crossed they get it out to us soon.

Are you a Pratchett fan? What other Pratchett characters do you think deserve big screen treatment (keeping in mind the Sky TV creations from a few years back)?

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

*Information for this post came from an article in the Independent.

5 things that change when you finish writing your first book

If you’ve ever thought about writing a book here’s a wee run down of how it went for me (in no particular order):

1. You now have to write: It’s in your bones, you made a habit of sitting down and putting words on paper and it’s a hard habit to break. However, your relationship with writing took some work. 

You liked it at first, but then you grew to loathe it, as it sucked up every morsel of your energy and time. Thankfully, at some point you and writing made a breakthrough (it would be tough to finish a book if you didn’t). You grew to see writing differently, your understanding of it deepened, as did your affection. 

As the last pages take shape you realise that this is not a relationship that you can allow to die

2. You forgot about editing: As you bid farewell to your fist book you look through a sentense and notice how mny mistakes you’ve made (see what I did there). Now it’s time to make the acquaintance of writing’s obnoxious uncle; editing. 

He’s harsh, he pushes you, and to make things worse he seems able to remind you of all the things that once annoyed you about writing. His presence jeopardises your deepening relationship with writing and you grow to hate him more for that.

As I forced myself through the last chapter of ‘Fey Flame‘ with editing in tow I must admit I lacked the growth of affection for him I’d found with writing. I might respect editing well enough now but I find him pedantic and quite frankly a pain in the butt.

3. You forget to read: Ego makes you think you know it all already and that the world ‘needs your craft’. I went through a (very) brief period of this after Fey Flame but was rudely awoken to my need to consult the greats when I started writing ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ (writing and I got a bit lost around chapter three).

Writing one book will not get you to a point where you know it all. 

4. You still have trouble calling yourself an ‘author’: I have to admit that impostor syndrome can be pretty strong here (at least it has been for me). 

I’m OK with ‘writer’; I’ll happily throw that one around. However, ‘author’ has a grandiose sound to it that I can’t quite draw myself up to yet.’Authors’ have fans, they are invited to big literary events, and they make a living from their writing.

I don’t make a living from it. I make some money from book sales but the thing that spurs me on is my readers. Knowing that people are reading (and enjoying) my work makes me feel more ‘author like’ but I think I’ve some way to go before I’ll be happy telling people I’m an ‘author’.

5. Knowing you wrote one book makes you think that the next ones will come more quickly: It doesn’t. You do write more quickly and make less of the obvious mistakes, but you have become more demanding of yourself. You want the next book to be better than the first. 


I know I’ve written another post similar to this one before but I’be recently been reading up on writing technique and it’s reminded me of how different I feel after writing the books.

Are there any big projects that you feel changed you in some way? Did testing your limits let you get to know yourself better?

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John 

Welcoming the autumn

Image of Lady Mary’s Walk, Crieff from

Cooler crisper days. Longer nights. A time to read and a time to write.

I can’t say I’m sorry to see autumn looming. With autumn evenings on the horizon we’re moving into the weirder part of the year, and it seems no coincidence that Halloween is this season’s big event.

I set the Fey Flame at the tail end of Autumn as it seems the most believable time for a tear between our world and something very different.

Because of this my writing feels most at home right now. I can’t wait to grab a warm mug of tea and my old beaten-up netbook and make the most of it.

Is there a time of year (or a time of day even) when you feel most productive? Are you mourning the loss of summer or are you happy to see the nights draw in?

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Fitting in (Crieff Writer’s evening/ literary open mic night)

It doesn’t matter how confident we are, sometimes we will inevitably feel like a round peg in a square hole (or a square peg in a round hole even). It’s a simple fact that we are all individuals and that even where a number of us find common ground someone will feel excluded.

Odly the barriers we hit aren’t always what we expect. Back when I was working on my MPhil thesis I came accross a study on second generation Portuguese immigrants in Paris who faced an unusual barrier.

When speaking French they sounded hip, urbane, youthful, and cultured. They spoke to contemporaries in Paris in this way and seemed to fit in comfortably.

However, their experiences of Portugal appeared so different that they sounded like genuinely different people.

You see, the Portuguese they knew came from their parents who spoke a rural and provincial dialect. This meant that their behaviour and speech in Portuguese simply couldn’t match the way they behaved when speaking French. Without the urbane, inner-city language they became very different and found it difficult to act like ‘themselves’ in Portugal.

What binds us can vary drastically, we might think that our tastes arethe simplest connection to share but sometimes we instead find kinship in our behaviours and aspirations. I found that last Saturday.

I had just completed a day of talking about the Jack Reusen books along at Fun Junction and remembered that there was a literary open mic night in the Strathearn Artspace 9as part of Crieff Arts Festival).

As a student I made it along to plenty musical open mic nights but I had never come across a literary one. To be honest it left me expecting something pretentious and a little clique-ish. I know Crieff already has a solid writers community so I couldn’t help worry whether I would fit in.

The atmosphere was extremely laid back, and the overall attitude from the audience was open-minded and welcoming. It meant that those reading for us were relaxed too and showed their work at its best.

The work itself was eclectic, including readings/performances of music, poetry, prose, and biography. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to and the only negative I could take from the night was a slight annoyance that I hadn’t prepared something to read.

I genuinely think we could make a monthly event of this (and not just because I’m itching for a chance to get up). I don’t know how we would go about it but I’d love to hear from others who might be interested.

Have you found a place that you fit in in surprising ways? Do you think creative environments are typically inclusive, or have you encountered clique-ishness in such groups?

As always thanks for reading, it means a lot to have people pop by to read these posts. All the best, John

Filling in the shadows

the_open_door_by_la_duqueBeing immersed in a book is very different to a movie; as events unfold right inside your head, they can elicit much more visceral responses. There’s something so weird (considering you’re just looking at some shapes on a page) but also something completely amazing about the whole process.

However, I’ve always run into problems when it comes to thrillers and/or horror stories. On a recent camping holiday where all tech stopped, I decided to pick up a wee collection of short stories based around ghost tales of Scotland.

During the day it was an enjoyable read and it helped fuel some ideas for the darker elements of future books. Then night fell, and the family went to sleep, and with wind howling around the tent I made the mistake of jumping back in. The horrors in the stories bled out of the pages and into the inky black night outside the tent. I jumped at the slightest sound. At one point the sound of an inconsiderate passing sheep mutated and left me gulping back bile.

It’s safe to say that my imagination likes to run with things at night. As a child reading famous five books the wind rustling leaves in the garden below could be nothing but lurking smugglers or other ne’er-do-wells. In my teens I read alien conspiracy stories and watched the faces of prowling cats distort in midnight lights to become malicious grey aliens preparing to abduct me (or had they already abducted me and wiped my memory?).

It took till adulthood for me to realise that a good night’s sleep would not be mine if I read this style of book. All the same I still forget sometimes and once again my mind will reel as the shadows take form and watch me, always behind my shoulder or just at the peripherals of my vision. Slowly creeping closer whenever my attention lapses.

I thought I’d be safe when I started reading the next book in Lari Don’s ‘Mythical creatures’ series, but no. There is one component perfectly crafted to leave children uneasy but to creep parents out to their core.

Don uses the old myths of celtic ‘Faerie folk’ (also used as part of the inspiration for the Fey folk of my books). However, Don stays closer to the legends as these faeries are far from benevolent; they are notorious stealers of children. Their technique is the worst bit; not only do they take your sleeping child from their bed but they replace them with a ‘changeling’ or ‘glimmer’ enchanted to look identical to the missing child. Your child is gone but you don’t notice, you walk into their room in the morning to find them unresponsive and clearly unwell, then over the next few days this replacement will either ‘die’ or disappear themselves.

What’s more is that by now it’s too late for you to claim your child back, as they have now been sentenced to a life in the land of the faerie folk; by eating their food they are doomed to never be able to eat human food again. Even if you somehow found your child and took them home the first bite of human food would turn them to dust. So..yeh…that’s some nightmares for parents right there.

The creepiest bit of ‘Wolf Notes’ (Don’s second ‘mythical beasts’ book) so far has got to be a wee boy’s little sister telling her mum that the boy in her arms in not her son but is instead a ‘doll’, a copy of her big brother. Somehow this got me worse than anything I’ve read by Stephen King.

Does horror in books get to you worse than horror in movies/on TV? What hides in the shadows in your house?

Feel free to share in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Characters who write themselves into your world

No one warned me about this when I started writing but sometimes characters appear in your work by accident. They must come from somewhere but you have no way of figuring out where, it’s like they’ve made themselves out of nothing.

Tam was like that. I never included it in the books but Tam’s appearance was initially quite sinister. 

Jack had barricaded himself in a cabin (along with some others) to keep a host of dangerous magical creatures outside. I was picturing everything in my head when suddenly I was looking out of someone else’s eyes. Someone who was trying to break into the cabin.

Nothing in Jack’s world had been first person up till then and I had no idea who this character was meant to be. I had made no decision to add a character but here one was, breaking into the cabin, leaving the door open, and endangering everyone inside.

The overall feel was extremely uncomfortable and everything this character did broke away from what I had planned. Through this strangers eyes I saw my characters standing in Mick’s kitchen, sure they were safe. Then the stranger strode into the room and kicked their best hope right in the head, knocking him unconscious. I was even sure I felt Fynn’s head as Tam’s foot connected.

I’m still not sure how this happened and Tam definitely isn’t the only character who appeared from nowhere.

My academic background focused on the formation of the self. It was all about early years behaviour and stimulus, nature vs nurture, self-awareness, and importantly the vital role the stories we tell about ourselves play in all of this.

These ‘characters’/selves are always attached to a human body and I’d assumed something similar would be true of fictional characters. I thought I would be in charge of every character. I was definitely sure that I would be responsible for every character that appeared in my writing. I was very wring.

Perhaps this was a side-efdect of writing in the faster-paced style required for National Novel Writing Month (50,000 words in one month). Or maybe Jack’s world was already that vivid to me.

It all worked out well and I love the character of Tam (I even gave him a large role in book three). However, I still feel an odd shudder when I think of how I was first introduced to him.

Have any authors reading this encountered a character like this? Does your writing sometimes surprise you?

Feel free to comment below. As always thanks for reading, all the best, John 

Skulduggery Pleasant

So far I’ve written reviews of books that would appeal to children within the suggested age range of readers of the Jack Reusen books. Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasent series is definitely  not that sort of book.

However, for the parents (and older siblings) out there I feel the need to share my excitement about the re-opening of the Skulduggery’s world.

After a series of nine books no one was surprised when Derek Landy declared the end of the series. We had all followed the sardonic, magic weilding, skeleton detective and his sidekick/partner Stephanie to what felt like a very natural conclusion. Books series end. These things happen, it can’t be helped. 

With a sigh that avid readers will know well I said goodbye to some well-loved characters and looked on to find the next book series. 

That was two years ago and just last week Landy announced a change of heart that isn’t particularly common of writers who have left old book series behind them. Skullduggery’s world is back!

Landy has expertly interwoven the literary styles of noir, fantasy, horror, a lot of comedy, and a good bony handful of other stuff too. These books aren’t for kids but they are most definitely for everyone else.

If you get stuck in now you’ll be in time for the summer 2017 launch of book 10.

Are there any other Skulduggery fans out there? Are you happy to see him (and Valkerie) back or do you think it was best left alone?

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Writing advice this Saturday

Are you three chapters into writing that novel but on the twentieth edit? Do you have extensive notes planning out a whole book but still haven’t written one paragraph? Have your writing efforts left you with a folder full of half finished chapters and sprawling notes? Well so have mine.

I’ve been trying to ‘be a writer’ since I was a kid. I started to take it more seriously in high school and actually made a solid attempt to write a novel while I was at uni.

However, I fell foul of a myriad of problems that I’ve come to recognise like old friends. I would over-plan, spending all my creative energy and leaving nothing for the writing itself. Then, to compensate, I would try to write in a free-flow style only to find my direction-less flow of words draining into stagnant puddles with no hope of turning into anything.

If this isn’t common of all writers I’d be very surprised. It seems like a necessary part of what we all go through. We all need to find the right pace and discover ways of retaining the creative spark in our writing whilst ensuring that our text actually means something (even if it is just to ourselves).

On Saturday I’ll be doing book talks and chatting about writing for most of the day. It’s part of Crieff Arts Festival hosted at Fun Junction in Crieff, and since I write kids books I expect I’ll be giving a lot of early advice (‘pay attention to your favourite authors’, ‘keep observing the world around you’, etc.). However, I’m also more than happy to offer advice (or even simply to mutually commiserate) to grown-up would-be writers.

I am not a break out success but neither are most successful writers (even J K Rowling still had to do the rounds with school talks to get the word out about Harry et. al.). I can’t be sure whether the Jack Reusen books make me an official ‘writer’ or not but that’s something that doesn’t bother me as much any more. I write and some people read it, and even better some of them seem to like it (at least that’s what they tell me). For me that’s enough.

If you’d like to come and bend my ear about writing you are more than welcome. I’m also considering putting together a sort of combined digital & ‘real world’ writers support group in the town. I’m aware that there are a few such groups already but I figure it can’t hurt to have more support for writers, plus developing the digital angle would make it easier to stay in touch.

I’ll be in Fun Junction from 11 until around 3 or 4 (depending on how busy it is). If you would like to talk writing, please pop along for a chat. All the best, John

George’s marvellous medicine

For over a year I’ve struggled to get my eldest to read independently. To be honest that’s not entirely true as he’d happily jump into reading Star Wars encyclopaedias at the drop of a hat. However, with the encyclopaedia, he’d put them back down after a page or two. It was pretty clear that we needed to track down a book that really spoke to him.

With p4 and the step-up in reading it brings on the horizon I realised that he’d need to get more accustomed to longer stretches of reading than he had before. I hunted for books that would pique his interest but every time we simply find another story for me to read to him and his brother (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

We hunted and hunted, I trailed him through a serious number of bookshops over the past few months. Then, about a month ago we took a trip to Glasgow, walked into Waterstones, and with the promise of a comfy seat and a hot chocolate he finally reached a decision; George’s Marvellous Medicine.

Picking the book in person had its own charm to it and I think the setting definitely helped. However, the general idea of a boy messing with a grouchy granny seemed to catch him straight away.

It was a favourite of mine when I was his age but I’d forgotten how good it was. George is precocious and empathetic, and also a bit of a chancer. To be honest I think it was a good match for my son’s personality. On top of this the granny (the recipient of the medicine) is a whole new character once you look at her from an adult’s perspective.

My son read the first few chapters aloud but he’s starting to just grab his book, curl up, and read. Last night he skipped bedtime story and just brought the book into bed with him to read by torchlight. The book geek in me couldn’t be happier, but on top of this, I know that what he’s doing will make the change in reading level this year all the easier to keep up with.

It’s a simple book that has been expertly crafted by one of the greatest storytellers I’ve read. Our new challenge will be to find the right book to follow it, but I’ve a feeling that the Roald Dahl back catalogue will keep him occupied for a while.

What were your favourite books when you first started reading? Can you remember any of them still? Let us know in the comments below.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John