The Mighty Sir Philip of Schofield

Dear Sir Phil,

Many moons ago, when I was about 15, you helped me out. The wacky world of Wikipedia suggests that you’re about eight years older than me so, to my teenage brain, you looked like a proper grown-up.

My parents had separated and a divorce was in the offing. They’d split up and I was living in a tiny house with my mum, brother and sister. Unfortunately, my folks weren’t doing a good job of splitting up and most days were like a war zone.

As the eldest, and with my mum working, I had to look after my younger sister. I’d take her to school in the morning, go to school myself, picker her up at lunchtime, take her back, then pick her up after school, take her home and feed her and wait until my mum came home. Not comparable to going down the mines, I know, but to a 15 year-old whose life had been relatively stable until then, it was a bit of a shock. Plus, there was the added madness of my parents going at each other like a mongoose and a cobra.

Anyhow, I used to give my sister her tea and sit and watch children’s TV with her. This was during your Broom Cupboard days.

This one particular day, you’d received a letter and you read it straight down the lens, so it looked as though (to me) you were talking to me and no-one else.

The letter was from a 14 year-old boy, whose parents were divorcing. I can’t remember the wording, but he was going through a rough time and was asking your advice.

I remember you looking out of the telly and saying that you couldn’t give any advice, but there was something you knew was true. So, you said this:

“The pain will end.”

For me, at that age, that was a lifeline and something I clung onto for years and still do. It gave me the idea that pain was finite and that there was, somewhere, light at the end of the tunnel.

You were right and, even though there were times I didn’t think I would, I survived.

I saw your announcement on This Morning. I’m sure you’re going through an awful lot of mixed feelings, which could probably be summarised as ‘pain’.

From my 15 year-old self to you:

The pain will end.

Thank you, Schofe. You kept me going through some very dark times and I hope, in some way, this odd little story might keep you pointing in the right direction.


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It’s Been a While…

Sorry for the radio silence, but things have been busy. Over the last 18 months, I’ve traveled to most ends of the country, dispensing geek-related madness to schools and libraries. While there’s no sign of this letting up, I have found some writing time.

While I can’t say what’s happening or when, just yet, I can say that something is and will be. I’ll endeavour to be a bit more regular on this media springboard and keep you posted.

Until then, stay tuned and I’ll see you when the planets are in place!

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A Year Ago, Today

I really wasn’t sure whether to write this or not. But, given the subject matter, I think I’d be a right old hypocrite if I didn’t.

A year ago, today, a good friend of mine made the decision to try and end his life. By some odd stroke of luck or fortune or momentary clear-sightedness, I was the last phone call he was ever going to make. And, because I’m an arsehole, it wasn’t going to happen the way he wanted it to.

To cut a long story short, he made it – although it was touch and go for a bit. Much as I’d like to, I’m never going to be able to forget the sight or the feeling of seeing someone you give a shit about getting stretchered into the back of an ambulance. I won’t ever forget the moment the paramedics had to work on him to bring him back from the brink, before they could even go near a hospital. And the irony of it being Mental Health Awareness Week wasn’t lost on me.

It’s the third person I’ve known in the last three years who’s had a go. Thankfully, none of them got the result they wanted at the time and all of them have come back, fighting. All of them now know it wasn’t the way the dice were intended to fall and they’re all keeping on keeping on.

It hasn’t been easy for any of them. For the guy I’m thinking of, the first six months were bloody awful. You don’t just walk away from the edge without remembering the view. Relapses were only a dark thought away and they happened, in not-so-glorious Technicolor. But he got there and is now a fully paid-up member of The Living.

I had no idea that things had got as bad as they were. But that’s because there was no talking involved; it was all smiles that he didn’t feel and words that he didn’t mean. Inside, it was all wrong.

Like I said, it all worked out right in the end. But there are ripples that people just don’t know about. I didn’t. I’m lucky – the ripples that hit me, hard though they were and still are, surround someone who survived. I cannot imagine the size of the waves that must smash onto the friends and family of those who have taken things just that one, vital step too far.

For me, honestly, the ripples that wash over me or bob me up and down or whatever, are still very difficult to navigate. They’re still hard to swim with and I know that my own mental health probably isn’t quite what it should be. I’m certainly talking about it, with the right people, and trying my best to implement the strategies and mechanisms that help you through.

It’s hard. What’s even harder is that there’s part of me that doesn’t feel like it has the right to be affected the way it has been. It wasn’t me staring into the abyss and deciding it looked a lot more comfortable than Life. It wasn’t me in the ambulance and it wasn’t me in hospital.

But it is me who occasionally falls apart and doesn’t know why. It is me who probably throws an inordinate of weight onto my Missus’ shoulders and it is me who finds talking tough. Child of the Seventies and all that.

But I’m doing it and I’m having a go. Because, as a satellite to someone else’s darkness, I’ve got a half-decent idea of where it can all lead to if you don’t.

If you’re reading this and you’re in a hole, don’t forget the people around you. You’ve probably heard all the ‘they love you and they just want to support you’ stuff, and while all of that is the absolute truth, there’s something else to throw in the mix: they need you. They need you in their lives. You are part of the tapestry of their existence and when one thread unravels, that picture will never look the same again.

Reach out, talk and ask for aid. We all need it at some time or other and there’s no shame in calling out. Tomorrow is another day and, while it might look full of shadows, there’s some light there.

If you can’t see it, get someone else to point it out for you.

Start talking. It’s the best thing you can do.

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A Secret Retreat

I’ve seen a lot of authors on Facebook and Twitter, asking if anyone knows of any good writer’s retreats. I’m ashamed to say that I do – but I’ve been guarding it as a secret for over a year, now.


Because you know that when you’ve found a good thing and word gets out – that good thing gets harder to get hold of! But I think now’s the time to let the cat out of the proverbial bag.

This is the place:

It’s in South Wales, not too far from Carmarthen – and it’s perfect.

Andy and Eeva

Before I get onto what it’s like, I ought to tell you a bit about the couple who run it, Andy and Eeva.

Andy worked for a Long Time as a professional Story Teller, working the circuit around London. He also studied at the Le Coq studios in France and is the only resource you’ll ever need, when it comes to learning about clowning, Matiers and things like mime. His missus, Eeva, is equally creative and invests her time teaching somatic dance, movement classes and other dance-based stuff. As far as creative couples go, they take some beating! On top of that, if you’re a creative, they know exactly when to leave you alone and exactly when to stop for a chat and a cuppa. You might even get some of Eeva’s banana bread.

Peace and Quiet – and Inspiration!

The cottages are perched on a hill, overlooking an ice-cream-scoop of a valley, all lined with trees and with a stream at the bottom. If you’re looking for peace and tranquillity and somewhere to go and inspire your brain with a bit of nature – it’s all on your doorstep.

Here’s the best bit: there’s no mobile phone service! I spent a week there, working on The True and Untold Story of the Outlaw Tam Barker and the sheer liberation you get from not hearing your mobile kick off every few minutes is extraordinary! The guys have got wi-fi, but I used a mobile dongle, which served my purposes.

The accommodation’s superb. I stayed in Mill Stream Cottage, which could easily have accommodated five people. Think timber beams, reclaimed furniture and a log fire and you’re nearly there. There’s also a fire-pit outside, where I sat with Andy and Eeva one night, serenaded by owls and distant foxes.

Across the way, there was another cottage – really beautifully done out and all very eco-friendly. On top of that, they’ve got a studio space, which was being used as a rehearsal room for a dance company but, apparently, they get bands rehearsing and recording in there and theatre folk, putting plays together. Like I said, this is a creative place, run by creative people.

It’s also the place I got the idea for my next book – but that’s for another post.

The Secret’s Out

With all this going on, I did have to ask myself why more people don’t know about Penpynfarch. And then I worked it out – it’s because people like me try and keep it secret.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. If you’re a bunch of authors, a band, dancers, singers, poets, artists or whatever, I seriously suggest you get yourself down there and soak it all up.

Just make sure you leave a slot for me – summer or winter, it doesn’t matter. Fires and hot chocolate are fine by me.

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The Legend of the Brentwood Literary Festival

I like a literary festival, me – and I’ve been lucky enough to get a few under me belt.

It’s hard to define exactly what it is I like about them all, because they’re all so different. Hay Festival is quite grown-up and organised, while Edinburgh is a bit more bohemian and have-a-go. Bestival was mayhem – but in a positive and free-spirited way, while Bath was more cosmopolitan and cool. But, they were all brilliant.


I think what unites them, tents, yurts and books aside, is the gang mentality; lots of people all working together to make things happen. Being part of a gang – even if it’s just for the day – is very life-affirming. Plus, there are all the people you get to meet, even in passing: the unsung heroes backstage, the heroes front-of-stage who are so sung they’ve practically got their own theme tunes and all the people in between.

But what I also like about literary festivals is that, like music festivals, they’ve got their own mythology. Like, if you go to Knebworth (as I did to go and see Oasis), you can’t help but be swept up by the history, myths and stories that surround the event: “This is where Led Zeppelin did such-and-such…” “This is where the Stones did so-and-so” “This is where Freddie Mercury said…”

All these stories seem to have been soaked up by the land itself, giving each festival its own feel.


I think the same’s true of literary festivals. “This is where Anthony McGowan…” “This is where JK Rowling…” “This is where Malorie Blackman…” All these little events and stories go on to create the myths, legends and verbal tapestries that surround each literary love-in and help to make it the event that it is.

This is, in part, why I’m so pleased to be appearing at the Brentwood Literary Festival. Apart from being an independent festival, put together by the heroic Chicken and Frog bookshop, it doesn’t yet have its own mythology.


It’s myth-free. Legendless. Bereft of tales.

But I’m lucky enough to be one of the first to start the threads of wherever this tapestry takes itself. Not by being outrageous or stupid, but by doing what we do and seeing where it goes. All the authors involved; we’re starting a story that, fingers-crossed, will be built on and embellished and altered until the Brentwood Literary Festival has its own feel, its own identity and its own tales to tell.

And, by coming along and supporting it, you get to be part of that, too. You get to start the “I remember when…” stories and the “This is where…” stories and the “Did you know…” stories.

But, more importantly, you get to say:

“I was there, when this story started.”


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The TommyvCancer Blog Tour – The Bash Street Kids

This blog has been written to show support for an Author of Might: Tommy Donbavand. In March 2016, Tommy was diagnosed with cancer and the bell rang for the fight of his life! Rather than lie down and take a battering, Tommy’s been slugging it out with the Big C and has posted almost every aspect of his battle on his website. I’m not a great reader of blogs, but this one is superb: funny, moving – the whole shooting match. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to. You’ll find it at:

Tommy’s a well-established author, having written the Scream Street series – which is also an animated show on CBBC. But there’s something else about this Man of Many Talents; something that I wanted to write about, because it always has been – and continues to be – a big part of my life.

*drum roll*

Tommy writes the Bash Street Kids strips for The Beano!

How My Bad Teeth Introduced Me to The Beano

I can clearly remember the first time I saw a Beano and The Bash Street Kids. I was born without any enamel on my teeth, which meant endless trips to the dentist. In the middle of the room was a huge, round table that bore a pile of magazines and newspapers: loads of boring stuff for grown-ups. I always had a root through, in case there was something interesting in there, but was always disappointed. Until one, particular day…

I’d never seen The Beano before. I can remember the big red and yellow lettering and the black scrap-cloud that announced that there was somebody called Dennis the Menace involved, with someone called Gnasher involved. I started reading.

Beano 76

Meeting The Bash Street Kids for The First Time

Once I’d made it to the centre pages, there was a strip called The Bash Street Kids. If memory serves, this was before they were able to use full colour and everything was rendered in black, white and varying shades of orange – and if you looked closely you could even see the little dots of ink that made up the blocks of colour. But there they were: Dany, Smiffy, Plug, Sidney, Toots, Spotty, Wilfrid, Fatty and ‘Erbert – all trying to dodge, prank and fight their ways through another boring school day – watched by the thin, mortar-board-wearing Teacher.

Already a fan of Just William, this was right up my (Bash) street. William and the Outlaws were great – but here, I had nine little rebels to read about, each with their own distinct personality and forever trying to undermine the rules and regulations set by Bash Street School. There was a paper-shop on the way home and I begged my mum to take me in, to see if I could find a Beano. I did and every Thursday after that, a portion of my 10p pocket-money was set aside for buying a copy. Thursday became Beano Day – for the rest of my life.



My Failed Attempt at Comics

I love reading Tommy’s Bash Street stories. On the face of it, writing a comic-strip looks simple, but it isn’t – years ago, me and a mate wrote a graphic novel, which was bloody awful. What really let it down was the story: you can’t have great artwork, if the story’s rotten.

Comics are a huge and important part of getting kids reading and there’s much more to them than interesting artwork. My son was introduced to the Beano almost as soon as he could read and, years later, we still sit down on a Thursday and chuckle over the antics of our favourite characters. Mine’s Smiffy – I know Tommy is a big Plug fan – but I love Smiffy’s cheerful insanity.


A Mountain of Sausage and Mash

It might sound daft, but I’m always amazed at the way Tommy treats the Bash Street Kids. These are iconic characters that feel as though they’ve been around since time began and Beano readers don’t just identify with them – they know them – so any deviation from the character just isn’t going to cut the mustard. I’ve been reading Tommy’s work for a while, now and you can almost feel his fondness for the Kids, the school and the strip itself. Put it this way: as a comic-reader, you know when someone’s tinkering with the lore and laws of your favourite characters – it just doesn’t feel right. I’ve never read a Bash Street by Tommy and felt something was out of place: it’s the Kids, as I know and love them and each time I read what they’re up to, I’m six years old, having found a ray of hope in a dentist’s waiting room.

Keep fighting, Tommy! I hope to see photos of you tucking into a Beano-style pile of sausage and mash, in the Not Too Distant.


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Tommy Donbavand

This is the first post I’ve done in a while. To be honest, I’d sort of fallen out of love with it – but something important has happened that’s given me a real reason to start tapping the keys.

A while I go, I made friends with guy on Facebook, by the name of Tommy Donbavand. For me, this was a Big Thing, because Tommy writes for the Beano. I still buy The Beano – I’d love to say it’s for my son, but what he doesn’t know is that I read it in the car, while I’m waiting for him in the playground.

Sorry, buddy.

The Bash Street Kids and Scream Street

One of my all-time favourite strips is the Bash Street Kids. I love their characters, the way they’re drawn ad the relentlessly-insane things they get up to – and who creates those bonkers storylines? Only Mr Tommy Donbavand!

Not only that – but he wrote the Scream Street series of books – totalling over 100! That’s a proper writer!

So, it was dreadfully upsetting to hear he’d been diagnosed with the Big C. But, in true Bash Street style, he’s using all his creativity, optimism and strength to battle it out. I reckon if he could use a catapult on it, he probably would.

Tommy Gets Tough!

In the wake of this news, Tommy’s started a blog: Tommy vs Cancer . Now, you might be thinking it’s all grim and that – but this guy writes for The Beano, for crying out loud! He IS the Bash Street Kids! It’s not grim – but it is incredibly moving and sometimes very funny. And incredibly brave. If you’ve not read it – do.

So, this is where blogging comes in.

There’s a blog tour on the go, to raise awareness of Tommy’s fisticuffs with the Big C. A lot an author’s income is generated through school visits, talks, personal appearances – that sort of thing. The trouble is, when you’re dosed up to the gills on chemo and radiotherapy, those things aren’t going to happen. So, along with doing his best Rocky impersonation against cancer, Tommy’s watching a sizeable chunk of his income dwindle.

We’re not going to let that happen. And neither’s Tommy…

How Can I Help?

Tommy’s set up a Patreon page, where schools, budding authors, librarians and anyone who wants advice from one of the best in the business can get it. All the details are here: Tommy’s Patreon Page

This is where my admiration for the man gets even more: he’s not taking this lying down and he’s not asking for freebies – he’s set something up that can benefit YOU and help him. Which, in my humble opinion, takes balls the size of maracas.

So, there’s a blog tour a-comin’ and if you want to be involved, then drop Viv DaCosta a line at: You can be a blogger, an author, a Beano reader or just somebody who wants to lend a hand – but give it a go.

If you don’t do anything else, check out his blog and Tweet your support.


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Apelo a todos os blogueiros brasileiros!

Oi, pessoal! Estou muito animado que missão improvável finalmente fêz sua maneiraao Brasil e eu estou ansioso para ouvir o que você acha de aventuras casual do Archie. Se algum de vocês quiser entrevistar um autor velho cansado, por favor entreem contato a leitores brasileiros e a comunidade de Blogs tem sido incrivelmentesolidária e eu gostaria de retribuir de alguma forma que eu posso! Muitas felicidades emuito obrigado. Andy.

gh2 brazil

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My Love of Chadda

On March the 7th, at approximately 7.50pm, I was reminded why I love Sarwat Chadda so much. Picture the scene: there I am, hosting the inaugural UKYABA ceremony and I remember, mere seconds before I announce an award, that the publishers sponsoring it aren’t there.
Dizzy on adrenaline, I went through the available options:
1) Do it myself
2) Pick someone else to do it.
As the number two screamed through my head, I scanned the expectant faces of nominees, publishers and authors and there, nodding away to himself, was Sarwat Chadda. The perfect stand-in – although he didn’t know it until about three seconds later.
My reasons for picking him might seem arbitrary on the face of it, but I have some history with old Sarwat and it all flew together, like filings to a magnet, to inform my choice.

The Force is with him

Sarwat is entirely responsible for my first ever launch party. The one with the stormtroopers.
When my first book, Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind, came out, ARCs were sent out hither and thither – and one of them ended up on Chadda’s lap. Bless him, he read it and even went so far as to offer up a quote that is on the inside page. If I remember rightly, I emailed him to thank him and we ended up in a virtual conversation about launch parties. As a first-time author, I didn’t even know they existed but Sarwat convinced me it was a thing worth doing. Not only that, but he found me a venue and suggested we meet up, before accompanying me to bludgeon the managers into submission.

Me and Sarwat Chadda - superb author and utter gent. Although you might not know it from the picture...

Me and Sarwat Chadda – superb author and utter gent. Although you might not know it from the picture…

Meeting Sarwat is an experience. When we met, it was in a café in London and he was wearing a long, white coat that made him look like he’d just finished work in a laboratory. But the thing about him that struck me was that he treated me like he’d known me forever, even though we’d never met before. He was affable, talkative (with a capital T) and ridiculously enthusiastic about my book – not even bothering to refer to his formidable canon.
Of books. Titter ye not.
Without further ado, he swept me into Waterstones on Oxford Street and secured the venue with me and for me.
But that’s only one of the reasons I love Sarwat Chadda.

The Show must Go on!
The next time I saw him in the flesh was at his home. By that point, I’d never been to the home of a proper author and it felt like I was being welcomed into his inner sanctum. That night, along with thee bewildered guests, we played a game of Deathwatch – which he masterminded with judicious glee. He acted out the parts of Orks and Dark Elves like it was: Sarwat Chadda – Live from the Palladium!

But it’s not that, either.

All Decks Stand By

I think I discovered my fondness for Sarwar Chadda on reading his Ash Mistry books. For those of you that haven’t, I suggest you do – they’re epic, action-packed stories, based around the central figure of Ash: a geek who is forced to stand up and fight.
That’s Sarwat.

Sarwat is a geek to his teeth. His Facebook posts often regale his followers with his latest triumph or defeat in the world of role-playing games or his latest literary escapade. But, beneath the D20s and the dungeon-crawling, Sarwat – like Ash – is a fighter.
I’ve met plenty of actors – and authors – who will try and fluff you about what’s happening next in their staccato careers – when we all know they’re as subject to the whims and fancies of their chosen creative vocations as the rest of us.
Not The Chadda (as I’ve come to think of him)
The Chadda is as disarmingly honest about his troughs as he is about his peaks – and it’s this, I think, that makes him the Constant Champion of the Underdog. Having been that underdog, I can reliably tell you that there’s no-one better to have on your side. Like his character, Ash, he’ll risk bringing his own world to its knees to make sure that yours gets a chance.
That’s why, in that flash-hot second, I picked on him to help me out.
Sarwat’s got some exciting stuff going on; if he’s not on your radar – find that shaven-headed blip and tune into it.

andy and sarwat
The Chadda is a proper gent and no mistake. Don’t let his boat sail without you.

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The UKYA Book Bloggers Awards 2015

As an author, I’ve been consistently humbled by the entirely altruistic support offered-up bloggers. Those lovely folk are always creating posts about us and creating awards for us, which found me asking the question in the Autumn of 2014: are there any awards for UKYA bloggers?

Awards for UKYA Book Bloggers

Without wishing to steal anyone’s thunder, I’ve recently found that there are a few campaigns underway – most notably from  This awards thing is in no way meant to undermine or invalidate what’s being done by her or anyone else – it’s simply a case of two people having the same idea at roughly the same time. However, what really got me scratching my head was that, once again, it seemed down to the bloggers to redress the balance and vote for each other.


My plan was to create an awards ceremony that, bar one category, has been voted on entirely by people working within the industry; publishers, authors and publicists – but not bloggers. What I wanted was for bloggers to feel as validated as they make authors and publishers feel and I wanted it to work the way that awards work for authors: awards are announced and you suddenly find yourself in the sweaty, put pleasurable position of being on a long list or a short list.

The Story so Far…

I dropped Malorie Blackman a line to press her for her thoughts, which were wonderfully supportive. Next up was to contact authors, publicists and publishers to see how they felt about it. The response was uniformly positive; everyone has been happy to give up some time to help me get this thing off the starting blocks. It seemed as though the industry has been waiting for something like this – all it needed was some numskull to get the ball rolling…

blogger awards


Since September, there have been a ton of emails flying around. Industry folk have contributed ideas, voted and helped me out immensely; while I might have started the machine up, since the first emails flew out, it’s been a team, industry-based effort.



On a more serious note, this isn’t going to be perfect. I’ve never tried to get anything like this together, before, and as it’s my first go, I’m sure there will be a few mistakes to count up afterwards. Firstly, there may well be authors out there who didn’t get an opportunity to vote – all I can say is that I’ve tried my best to spread the word as far as possible. Secondly – and I think this is the most important point – this isn’t meant to be a divisive thing. When you’re an author and you’re suddenly pitted against others in some category or another, it’s always seemed to me to heighten the sense of camaraderie, rather than splinter it. I’m hoping that everyone will approach this in the same spirit; it’s a nod to ALL the hard-working, generous and passionate UKYA book bloggers out there, whether they’re on the short list or not. By the very nature of an awards thing, there are going to be those who are in the spotlight. There will be winners. But, there won’t be any losers: this is designed to be a celebration of you lovely bloggers, served-up with a side order of fun.


Lecture over.

What I Can Tell you at the Moment

So: what’s happening?


Here’s the website to watch: Over the next few days and weeks, the long list will be announced, followed by the shortlist. There’s also an opportunity for bloggers to vote on a particular category: the Blogger’s Blogger Award.

top secret


Soon – very soon – I’ll announce the venue, date and time and there will be an awards ceremony, with a superb range of prizes, sponsored by publishers, trophies, sponsored by a marketing company and, hopefully, some speeches. Invitations will be sent out to authors, publishers, press and, of course, the stars of the night: bloggers. On the night, the winners will be announced. I’d love as many people to come as possible, from every avenue of the industry, to show bloggers just how much they really are valued. If we get it right, it should be a great night and, with a bit of luck, it’ll become an official, annual event.


I think that covers it. If you do come along, it might be worth bringing a bottle or a cake – I haven’t quite managed to sort out catering for the night – but I’m still working on it.

The Wheels are Still Turning!

Finally: a huge thanks to everyone that’s got involved. What started out as a bit of an idealistic pipe-dream is coming together at a rate of knots and without the input and generosity of the publishers, publishers and authors, there’s no way this would ever have got off the ground.


I really, really hope to see you there.


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