Category Archives: Uncategorized

A whole new world!

This month I’m visiting a place that no human being has ever set eyes on. I have a rough itinerary set out and I know a little about what to expect of the place but that’s all I have.

This marks the sixth year that I’ve done this sort of thing and every time I do, I begin my journey with just as little planning and organisation. The freedom is exhilarating and those seven years have changed my life. I can’t imagine ever skipping this ritual now.

I should probably explain this better: I haven’t booked a trip to a remote part of the world. I don’t intend to become the next Bear Gryls. In fact all my travel will take place sitting down in my office and my ‘travel agent’ is an organisation called ‘NaNoWriMo’.


If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you’ll have heard me talk about NaNoWriMo a few times.

If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo before then I’ll try a one sentence explanation: NaNoWriMo or ‘National Novel Writing Month’ is a community-based event for writers (both total amateurs and professionals) in which each member is supported on their way to creating a full novel/50,000 words within the month of November.

With the support of the NaNoWriMo community I’m currently writing my tenth novel (sixth NaNoWriMo novel). The final stretch is in sight. It will be hard, I will exhaust myself (and probably my family too as I run ideas by them).

Loads of support for writers

This is as close to a creative version of a marathon as I can imagine, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Not only are there message boards on the NaNoWriMo website itself but you can also call on writer’s support over on Twitter by following the hashtag #NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve missed your chance to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, you don’t have to wait all the way till November 2020. NaNoWriMo also has regular virtual writers ‘camps’.

As with the November NaNoWriMo these are free to participate in (though they welcome donations) and the community is there to help motivate you, console you, and help in countless other ways.

You can follow these links to find out more about both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. (Note: Currently the links seem to bring you to the same site.)

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


I’ve been away. They didn’t have wifi and that was OK 😉 For a solid week I’ve lacked access to social media, blog data, e-mail, and even Google (!).

Out of all of these I have to admit it was toughest living without Google (and all the doors it opens). Wikipedia has become a fond yet distant memory and when my son asked how big basking sharks were I had to fall back on a phrase few of us use any more: ‘I don’t know’. (Luckily an RSPB station on the island had brochures with all the basking shark information we needed).

‘I don’t know’ felt genuinely unusual and it made me realise that my kids have been growing up in an environment that’s massively different from the one I grew up in. Information is literally at their fingertips; a host of encyclopedias, ‘how to’ guides, and other sources of knowledge are their’s to access whenever they want (unless of course they lose their Internet connection).

What will this generation do with this information? For them the internet isn’t the novelty it was for me. Instead information access will be the norm. What counts as knowledge looks set to change dramatically. Potentially this could lead to a much more intellectually confident generation than we’ve ever seen. What do you think? 

It’s funny what a week without the internet can do. Refreshing, relaxing, but also slightly isolated. I liked my break but it’s good to be back.

As always, thanks for reading, feel free to add your feelings about the internet below. All the best, John 

A new beginning

Karen (the cover illustrator) and I did an official/unofficial launch of the new cover for ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ a couple of days ago. It was great seeing the reactions on social media and I’ve been singing Karen’s praises since.

I thought I’d use this post to point out that the cover isn’t the only thing that’s changed. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time trying to shrink the book down a little. The font is still the same (hopefully easy to read) size, but I’ve edited the word count down a bit to make it easier for kids to get through a chapter.

The finished result should be a book with chapters that are just over two-thousand words long (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone is about five-thousand a chapter) which should work well for children who are just past first chapter books (which are about a-thousand words per chapter). As a rule of thumb I’d say the starting age for readers will be about seven or eight years old. However, children as old as ten and eleven (and some big kids of unspecified age 😉 ) have said that they’ve enjoyed reading the books too.

It’s taken me a while to figure out readership. When I first wrote the books I was writing as a parent who reads books to his kids. I wanted a book that I would find meaty and enjoyable whilst being short enough per chapter to retain my son’s interest. With this in mind I told people that the books were for children aged five or six and up, and I’d say they’re still fine for that age, if you’re the one reading (though ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of dreams is a little scarier than the first).

However, I’m coming to realise that my readership is starting to include an age group of readers who are a little older than my son and I’m finding this an odd experience. For starters I can only guess at what will keep them interested as I have no recent experience of which books appeal to an eight or nine year old. 

Here’s a check-list of things in book one (and a little beyond) that seem to have gone down well at book talks:

  • A girl who can turn into a polar bear (and who eventually learns some awesome magic) CHECK
  • A tiny man who can knock out a powerful Eldar with one kick (and who rides a ‘war chicken’) CHECK
  • A Granny who won’t think twice about slapping a bear of a man right across the face for mistreating animals CHECK
  • A boy who discovers more about himself and his family in three days than most people do in a lifetime CHECK

In talks in schools these things seem to always get a good response and so it’s been a tough job figuring out what subsequent books will involve. I don’t want things to become formulaic but at the same time I don’t want to ignore the ideas that have gone down well in the past. I like to think I’ve managed a decent balance by taking these characters and throwing them into the middle of two very odd situations in the next two books, (‘Spark of Dreams’ is a ‘zombie’ book, and ‘Children of Fate’ will be similar in tone to a disaster movie).

As I say, I like to think that these ideas have worked well for the most part (at least from what I’ve heard from readers) but I’m always interested to hear advice about the books and about what seems to be able to keep kids interested and entertained. I’m in the middle of editing the third (and fourth) book(s) at the moment so I genuinely value any feedback you might have. If you’d like to share your thoughts please take a second to add a comment below or over at the official facebook and twitter accounts. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Off to ‘Elsewhere’

I won’t be blogging tonight, firstly because I’ve got loads of prep to do for my talk tomorrow, but also because I’m heading down with the family to see this:

If you’re in the Crieff area they’re hosting shows in Mungal park (part of MacRosty park, you get to it by crossing the bridge). Shows are at 6pm 21st Aug (tonight) and then at 2pm and 5:30pm on Saturday (22nd) and the same times (2pm and 5:30pm) on Sunday (23rd). OK I’m off to the show, hope to see some of you there, all the best, John

Why Fantastic 4 is failing (and why Batman vs. Superman will follow suit)


I haven’t seen it, to be honest I might even like the movie when I do, but one thing I know already is that 20th Century Fox made a mistake. It was just too soon for a reboot, especially on a movie that failed to perform as well as other superhero franchises the first time around. The numbers are looking bad for the movie on it’s second week out in the world.

The Fantastic Four has never been my favourite comic book team but neither have I had anything bad to say about them either. Overall I give all of the characters a loud resounding ‘yeh they’re OK’. However, even an ‘OK’ superhero franchise is better than a bad one, or even worse none at all, so what do I think has gone wrong here?

It’s all about emotional investment; viewers watched a movie (2004), and then a sequel (2007), from that point on most of us might have expected to see a further instalment (after all it would round out to a nice trilogy). However, our investment, both emotional, and in terms of time spent, has been wasted on characters that have now been binned. Even if the previous Fantastic Four movies weren’t the best movies ever, I was still in a position of wanting to see what happens next. Now there is no ‘next’, and there never will be.

I feel short-changed, as I suspect many marvel fans do. I also feel (to a certain extent) cheated out of a satisfying end to a decent (though not exactly ‘fantastic’) storyline. Why on earth would I bother convincing my wife to come and watch yet another superhero movie, handing over my money, and then sitting through a couple of hours of storytelling, when I have prior experience that tells me that I could very well be wasting my time.

It could be the best movie ever made and still I’d be reluctant to go. In fact I would be even more reluctant to see it if it does turn out to be an amazing movie because I can’t be sure whether Fox will make a sequel or simply yank the rug out from under me yet again. This brings me to my prediction about Batman vs. Superman:

Brandon Roth’s Superman (2006) was promptly (OK not promptly but in movie terms pretty closely) followed by a revamped (and very dark) Henry Cavill (2013). I kind of liked both movies but the revamping bugged me and now this Superman mark III (Christopher Reeve’s Superman may have predated it significantly but he left a very solid impression) is being combined with yet another revamped character to create a ‘Super-revamped’ mash-up.

Superman mark III will be up against Batman mark…(I literally have no idea any more, there have been so many). To be safe just consider the fact that The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012, making this reboot the quickest I’ve mentioned so far. Waiting four years to reboot a character really doesn’t do WB any favours with fans.

I find it easy to believe in Disney’s faith in the Marvel universe they’re building. Sadly, as a fan, I simply don’t believe that either Fox or WB believes in their franchises as much, not enough to commit to telling a story, even where a movie in the middle of that story fails. As a viewer walking into the cinema to watch a Fox or WB superhero movie I will always be asking myself “Why am I here? Is this just another blatant ‘Hail Mary’ pass from a studio that is desperately trying to claw out the same returns as The Avengers?”

And there’s the clincher; the real reason these films flop: if the studios don’t care then why should the fans. As a solid Superman and Batman fan I’m sorry to say I probably won’t be attending the cinema to watch in 2016.

I might catch it on DVD or buy a digital copy on Amazon a few months later, but by then the studios will already be calculating returns and dropping sequels. They’re not willing to wait for the fans who (quite rightfully) have reservations about the story the studio is telling. Once again we have yet another nail in the coffin of superhero franchises that belong to studios who have stopped caring about the stories they are trying to tell.

Sorry for yet another movie rant but I couldn’t help it. Do you see Batman vs. Superman becoming a big hit? I sincerely hope I’ll be eating my words come next year but what I’ve seen so far isn’t changing my mind. At the moment it really feels as though they’re all rushing in before they’ve figured out what story they want to tell us.

As always thanks for reading, and apologies again for the rant, all the best, John

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, Sci-fi or Fantasy?

Star_Wars_The_Force_AwakensThis isn’t really a ‘bookish’ post but still, I’m going with the idea that there’s still enough of ‘fantasy’ theme to warrant talking about the up and coming new Star Wars movie. To be honest that’s what I really wanted to talk about anyway; ‘Star Wars’ is one of those unique works of fiction that bridge the gap between fantasy and sci-fi. Personally I’ve always seen it as a fantasy series set in space and to be honest that’s probably why I got a little less enjoyment out of the prequels.

For me the joy of the original trilogy came from watching magic and raw wits beat a totalitarian foe with alarmingly superior technology and mind-blowing numbers in their favour (the force is magic in my eyes, all the midiclorians stuff they added in the prequels was interesting but it kind of kills stone dead almost everything that’s interesting about the Jedi).

Considering the fact that George Lucas clearly thought of his work as a space opera/some kind of epic sci-fi series (if he didn’t I’m not sure how to explain the plot and style of the prequels) and so in his absence I can’t help but wonder what direction the new trilogy will take; will we see yet more sci-fi or will Disney re-inject some magic into the franchise and allow the fantasy elements to shine through once more? (By the way I’m not downing sci-fi, I love Star Trek, Andromeda, and Stargate SG1, though the the last one once again bridges the sci-fi-fantasy divide)

OK so this is probably one of the shortest posts I’ve done on here, and we won’t get a definitive answer for a good four months. All the same I’d love to know if other people have the same feelings about Star Wars: Is it a fantasy movie set in space? Did the prequels lose sight of that? and do you think Disney will be able to set it back on course (was it ever off course in your eyes)?

As always thanks for reading, feel free to comment here, on Facebook, or over on Twitter. All the best, John

Oh and this was a lot of fun to watch, thought I’d share it here:

Crieff Primary School


A few weeks ago two copies of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ went off on their way to Crieff Primary School. The school is in the middle of moving buildings at the moment so I don’t think they’ll have time to have me over for a visit or talk but I couldn’t resist the chance to send them a couple of reading copies down for kids to have a look at.

It’s really odd for me because that’s the primary school I went to (my own kids go there now too) it’s a nice sensation sharing something I’m so proud of with a place that helped me to broaden my reading and learn the early parts of putting a story together.

It sounds like the children who have been reading about Jack’s world so far are enjoying the books and I’m looking forward to any feedback that the pupils and teachers might have for me.

I missed a chance to visit the school for a special event they were holding on Thursday to commemorate the old building (they’re moving to a brand new campus-style building after the summer holidays). I wish I’d had a chance to say goodbye to the place but I’ve already been lucky enough to watch my wee boys enjoying the place and I’ve had more than a couple of opportunities to enjoy all kinds of events offered by the school over the past few years.

Crieff Primary helped me come out of my shell and feel more comfortable as an individual, and I think they’re still carrying on that tradition with their current pupils. As much as I’ll miss the old building I’m glad to see that what makes CPS will still live on.

As always thanks for reading, and feel free to share memories of what your primary school gave you in the comments section below (and please don’t forget to pop along and like the official Facebook page by clicking this link). All the best, John

Artist/Illustrator wanted!

artists-wantedOK I’m having to bite the bullet here. I only have a couple of weeks left before ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ is coming out and I still don’t have a cover. I’ve been contacting a lot of artists on deviant art and other similar websites who seem to specialise in fantasy characters and scenery but none have replied so here I am putting out an open call for anyone who can create images like these (especially the middle one):


I’d like to lay out the cover something like Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the kingdom’ books with an interesting but uncomplicated central illustration framed by maybe leaves or a bedroom wall (Nix has a clock face). That would leave plenty room for front cover text, and the back cover could just be leaves or wallpaper which should make it easy to write the blurb on there and add an isbn number. Here’s what Nix’s books look like:

wpid-imag1419_burst002.jpgMy request is as simple as that, I don’t have much of a budget to spend at the moment, the books are self-published so currently all costs are coming straight out of my pocket. In some regards I’m looking for someone in a position like myself who likes to think they do a good job at their craft but who hasn’t hit a point yet where they can do it professionally, full time.

If you might be interested in beginning a working relationship that might allow us to showcase each other’s work then please comment below (or go to the Jack Reusen accounts on twitter or facebook) and we can discuss what might work for both of us. 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


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