Monday, 19 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing

It seems I've been tagged, and quite happy with it!  So here I am ready to tell you about my next book, out in May of 2013.  Mosi's War.
      I got the idea for Mosi's War watching a programme about boy soldiers. Young boys, only children, forced to do the most unspeakable things. I thought of my own children, my grandchildren, my grandson, Robert just 9, the same age as some of the boys dragged off to distant wars they didn't even understand. And the idea began to grow. I suppose that's what inspired me to write the book in the first place. I hate the thought of children having their childhood taken away from them.  It's a typical Cathy MacPhail book, I think, a gritty realistic thriller, set in Glasgow. It's about two boys, Mosi and Patrick, who are caught up in an horrific set of events.  If I was to describe Mosi's War in one sentence it would be this.
 'Real life is a lot scarier than anything you could make up.'
  I know there are other books about boy soldiers, wonderful books, but I tried to avoid reading them. It was mostly non fiction books I read, true stories that would make your blood run cold.
  And what else in the book might pique my readers' interest? Well, there's a vampire in it too!
  Of course I would love Mosi's War to be snapped up as a film, but I can't be greedy. I already have a book being made into a film this very year!Another Me now to be known as Panda Eyes! Don't ask me why. Do I care? no! It's going to be a film! One of my books is going to be a film! 
     Filming begins on the 25th of this month, November. I am so excited about it. I have wonderful producers, a fantastic director, Isobel Coixet, who have all been responsible for some award winning and prestigious films. There is a stunning cast too. The drop dead gorgeous, Jonathan Rhys Meyers,( he was HenryV111, in the Tudors), Rhys Ifans ( Notting Hill, Spiderman). Sophie Turner, ( Game of Thrones) will be playing Fay, and though I haven't met her yet, just seeing her photo I think she will be a perfect Fay. I've read the script which is seriously spooky, and yet sticks close to my book. My dialogue, my scenes, my story. It is going to be wonderful to see such fine actors speaking my words on the big screen. Panda Eyes will be released I believe sometime in 2013. I'm looking out for the posh frock already!
  So I have so much to look forward to. My lovely wee Mosi's War out in May, and the film out next year too.
   I am meant to tag other authors, but it seems all the authors I was going to tag have already been included. But what about Helen Fitzgerald? I met her at Bloody Scotland, she's multi talented, and writes in so many different genres. I'd love to hear from her.

Monday, 8 October 2012

On writing a synopsis

Am I the only writer who enjoys writing a synopsis? I have always found it helps my creativity, keeps me motivated and focussed . It's how all of my books begin.
I'll tell you how I began writing them. When I was writing situation comedy for radio, and television I learned a lot. I listened to and I watched other comedies, and I read books about writing for both radio and television. When you have to tell your story in 27 minutes or less, then you can't waste a moment, and have to have a plan before you begin. A synopsis in fact.  You work on the story first. Then divide it into scenes. Each scene should move the story along and end on a mini cliffhanger so the listener/viewer will want to stay switched on to find out what happens next. Hook them with a great beginning, and build to the funniest climax/line you can come up with.
    So when I was writing my first children's book, Run Zan Run, I simply used the same principle.
  You think that sounds too formualaic?
  Well, do you think  the Pope  gave Michael Angelo  a set of step ladders and a pot of paint and said.  'Away up there and paint something, son.'  And then Michael Angelo goes up with his brush, finishes his painting and realises there's no room for one of the legs? No. He made a plan. He knew the exact size of the area he had to work in. He knew exactly where he had to begin, and how to fit everything in. He made a plan. and he created a masterpiece.
   He wasn't the only one. Da Vinci began with a mathematical plan for his masterpieces, so he could get everything in proportion.
   And if it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.
   Not that I'm writing masterpieces! But I do want my books to be the best they can be.
   So I write my synopsis, and as the great Roald Dahl said,' once you have something written you have something to change.' So as you can imagine, it does change a lot.
   I think of my book is like a journey, and for a journey I need a map.My synopsis is the map  I know exactly where I am going to start from, and where I would like to finish. Say, London.
  But on the way, I may take some interesting detours. I may be held up by roadworks, there may be diversions that set me on a different path. I could meet interesting people I didn't expect. But my map keeps me heading in the right direction, and eventually after this, hopefully, exciting, surprising journey Iwill still end up in London.And Wow! the riots are going on. Something I didn't expect when I started off.
  The synopsis keeps me focussed.
  So here in a few words, is how this works for me. Won't work for everybody of course, but this is my way.
 I write a mini version of my story. My synopsis.Then I divide it into chapters, each chapter must move the story along. Each chapter should end on a cliffhanger. I hook them hopefully with that first chapter, and build my story up to a thrilling climax. Giving readers the ending they want, but not in the way they expect it.
  Then I start writing, and the adventure begins.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bloody Scotland

I think spending time with other writers, being surrounded by books and stories, inspires you to write more stories yourself. I was at the Bloody Scotland Festival at the weekend. At first I felt as if I didn't really belong there, with Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre, Alex Gray.....and so many others. All great writers of adult murder mysteries. The weekend seemed to have an edge to it, perhaps because it was all about murder. There were talks about historical detectives, about the alter egos writers had created in their characters, about how true crime inspires fiction. One event as interesting as the next. I had been asked to do an event with the title. Once Upon A Crime. ( Great title for a session on children's crime fiction,eh? ) Gillian Phillip was also on the panel. She not only writes great teenage thrillers, but also fantastic fantasy. Wolfsbane is her latest.  Helen Fitzgerald was on our panel too, a writer I hadn't met before but who writes for adults and teenagers. Her new book is coming out in the US first. Its title? Deviant. Makes you want to read it already, doesn't it?  But it didn't take long for me to realise that even when we are writing for children we are still writing strong, dramatic murder mysteries. Writers of teenage crime fiction take a murder, a mystery, and see how a young person will react to it, or solve it. Our protagonists can't be police detectives, or pathologists or psychological profilers. Our characters have to go to school, ( although I did get round that in the Nemesis series by having my hero a boy on the run!) They have mums and dads to worry about, they have curfews. They can't drive, or follow suspects from one town to another. We encounter real problems when writing crime fiction with these kind of restrictions. Yet we choose to do it. I think it's because we don't see them as problems, but as challenges. How do we get round them? How do we make sure it is the child who solves the mystery, without the help of those mums and dads, those forensic tests, those profilers? Do you remember the film, ' Witness'? An Amish boy sees a murder in a gents' toilet at a train station. The story is about how the handsome detective and the boy's beautiful Amish mother, protect and save him, and bring the murderers to justice. Okay, here's a project. Write a synopsis of that story,( you can forget the Amish bit if you want) with the boy protecting and saving his mother and the detective and the boy bringing justic. How would he do that? More importantly, how would you do that?
   The weekend finished with a Sherlock Holmes play, The Red Headed League. Stuart McBride was Sherlock, David Ashton a fabulous Watson, Val McDermid was also in the cast along with a host of other crime writers including Gillian Phillip. ( Honest, you can't keep her out of anything.) I was in it too. One of the red headed league with one line to remember.  I was terrific.I'm waiting for the casting call from Steven Moffat as I write.
 A big congratulations to the organisers. Next year's Bloody Scotland is already in the planning stages.
A wonderfully inspiring weekend. I can't have been the only one who came home buzzing.

Monday, 2 July 2012

what a week!

Home again.  And what a wonderful time I had last week. On Monday I was in London, I had been invited to the House of Lords,( how, you may ask, did I manage to get invited to the House of Lords? I will never know, but I was delighted anyway! I think my lovely agent might have had something to do with it. Her and I were there together.) It was a reception to celebrate Volunteer Reading, a wonderful inititiative to get trained people into schools to read with young people.I was at the local prison only the week before and saw how many of the inmates have a low level of education and reading skills. It only reinforced my belief that education and reading are the key to raising aspirations and self esteem.  There were so many interesting people at that reception, and I stood on the long terrace overlooking the Thames and thought how lucky I was to be included among them. Me, whose widowed mother was a school cleaner  who also had another two jobs to support me and my three sisters. She would have been so chuffed!  A day to remember.
  But have you ever wished you could be in two places at the same time? I did last Monday. Because of that invite to the House of Lords, I had to forego yet another wonderful experience.  Monday also saw the launch of the Scottish Children's Book Awards, and I couldn't go! It was all top secret, so I couldn't even tell anyone I had been shortlisted until last Monday when the announcements were made. 
  I am so delighted to be on the shortlist for this fantastic award, especially with Out of The Depths,the first in the Tyler Lawless series. I so love writing about this character.  I'll have to wait till March 7th, 2013, for the final result and that will all be up to the pupils of Scotland and which book they vote for. So, a great believer in enjoying the moment, I am going to make the most of the time until the award ceremony next year. Already in my diary,so even an invite to Buckingham Palace will have to be turned down!( Well, you never know, stranger things have happened!)
  And as if that wasn't enough on Tuesday I went to the new Bloomsbury offices to meet up with my editors . We were talking about my next book, out next year. My title for this one, and a blinking good one too, I thought, was, It Walks Among Us, but my editor thought it sounded too much like a horror novel. She's always given me good advice, been my editor since Run Zan Run, so I have gone with her suggestion. Mosi's War. I'm getting used to it now. They are excited about this book, and so am I. I am very proud of it, love the characters.  I created two boys, Mosi and Patrick, and they just leapt off the page and began writing the story themselves. I love it when that happens.
  Then I was off to meet Hamza, one of my biggest fans, and a boy who has done so much for me. Thanks to him I'm on Twitter, and have a Facebook fanpage and he's always finding reviews and articles about my books and posting them for me. I don't know what I would do without him.
  On Thursday I visited Merchant Taylor's school in Liverpool and had a wonderful time with Tony Higginson who has an independent book story and who organised my visit. Sold lots of books and met so many fans. On in the evening to another Liverpool school, St. Edwards College for their Open Evening event. All I had to do there was sit and smile and blether. I've never had any problem doing that!
  The icing on the cake was that I got to stay with my family down there. Katie and Danny, and my lovely Daniel and Jessica. What a memorable week!
   Katie has this wonderful idea of keeping a gratitude journal, and each night writing down three things to be grateful for. You don't write anything bad, only the good things, however small. I think it's a wonderful idea. I'm going to do it too.
  But how do I ever stop at the three?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Almost There

Do you know how often my work has almost made it to the screen! Too many times to mention , so here I am, mentioning them. I had two comedy series on Radio 2. Yeah, did you know I once thought I was going to be a comedy writer? My Mammy and Me had begun as a short story on radio and then just grew. I was so excited when it was commissioned for television. They talked about the cost of each episode, the sets, the cast. I had a script editor and everything, and then.....nothing. Never quite rejected, just put on a back burner. Never mind, I already had another commission for yet another comedy series. I had worked in a woollen mill when I came out of school, and used the experiences to write about two mill girls in the '60's, who thought they deserved a better life. We Gotta Get Outta This Place( I even had a ready made theme tune!) I sent it off to the producer of my favourite comedies at the time. Susan Belbin, who was producing Only Fools and Horse, One Foot in the Grave among others. She came up to Glasgow to meet me, loved it. She commissioned me for five episodes. I was up and down to London for casting auditions. Me! I was swanning around Television House along with Steven Moffat, before he became The Moff.  I sat in as actresses came in and read for the parts. Kelly McDonald was our favourtie, told me her mum just loved the script too. Susan, a producer with a lot of clout down at the BBC, refused to have a read through,( that's when the actors get together and read through the script. That had to be explained to me, in case you think I am being patronising.)  or even for a pilot to be made. ' You are getting a series,' she told me. ' BBC 2 for the first series, then it will move to BBC 1'  Can you blame me for thinking, nothing could go wrong now?
  So, what went wrong, I hear you ask.
  Susan Belbin became ill, and had to leave the BBC!
  The baton was picked up by her assistant, also a producer. Just as keen as Susan Belbin but with none of her clout. She too refused to have a read through of the script. What she did get was a stage pilot. The episode was to be acted out on stage, and filmed  in front of an audience. She did a fantastic job too.
What could go wrong this time?
Well, it was a very Scottish working class comedy set in the '60's. And it was filmed in front of a London audience, mostly BBC types.  I didn't get the series.
   And then there was Granny Nothing. Before it became a book, I sent it off to the BBC as an idea for a children's series. They loved it. I was commissioned for 18 storylines, for two series.  So, what happened to this one? Well, the controller of children's television was replaced and his successor had his own ideas of what would make a good series. I began writing Granny Nothing as a book, which then became four books.
Then, to my delight, Granny Nothing was picked up once more by the BBC. Once more I was commissioned. Surely, nothing could go wrong this time? They were talking about a scriptwriting team which I would head,  how long each episode would last, at what time it would be aired., even who they were considering to play Granny Nothing.
Fate vomited on my contract once again.
Another new controller appeared. This one thought Granny Nothing was too much like Madame Doubtfire.
I almost phoned him up screaming. ' It's nothing like Madame xxxxx Doubtfire.'  But what would have been the point?
  But you know, and this is especially for any aspiring writers out there, I got all of this without an agent.  I looked in the Radio Times for the names of the producers whose work I admired and then I simply sent off scripts or programme ideas to them. (It was Susan Belbin who suggested I get an agent, seeing as how I was going to be so famous and all that with We Gotta Get Outta This Place!)
 And now.... I am almost there again. This time it is the big screen.  The film rights for my book, Another Me, ( another one which began as a short story on radio) were bought a long time ago.  Last year however, everything began to snowball. I met the people in charge of production, Rebekah and Nicole, and was invited down to London to meet the woman who is going to direct and write the screen play for the film. Isobel Coixet. A Spanish director with a wonderful track record and reputation. They are all delightful, and so enthusiastic.
Isobel told me she is so looking forward to bringing my story to the screen. They have found the perfect location, (Cardiff) and Isobel is planning to make it a terrifying psychological thriller. Fox International will distribute it. It is going to be called Panda Eyes. ( No, I dont' know why either) It is going into production this the, no, it has now been rescheduled for September.
So, here's the cliffhanger.... it isn't September yet.....I'm holding my breath.....

Monday, 12 March 2012

SAW writers conference

Just back from a wonderful weekend with the Scottish Association of Writers at Erskine. I was the key speaker for the Friday night, and as I stood there in front of all those writers I remembered the first time I came to that conference, sitting out there, listening to the Friday night speaker, wondering who I would meet, what I would learn, and if I would win any prizes. ( There are loads of competitions at this conference) In fact, almost the first time I was at the conference I won the women's short story competition, judged by the wonderful Alanna Knight, a real inspirations to writers still writing her Inspector Faro books. I was so nervouse I couldn't even  read out my story. Alanna had to do it for me. It was titled, This Could Be The Night, and the editor of Women's Weekly was at that conference, and she liked my story and bought it. That led to many more stories in that magazine and others, and also led to me wrting two romantic novels. I also won the Marty Duncan trophy for a humorous article. I was advised to send it to the BBC, who asked me to turn it into a short story which has been broadcast several times, I then wrote it as a half hour comedy play, which became a series on Radio 2. My Mammy and Me. That was even commissioned for television too. Never made it there....yet! From little acorns indeed!  and there I was, on Friday night, the speaker at that same conference. IThe lovely Joyce Holmes was the speake for the Saturday night.
   It was great to meet up with so many old friends and see how well they were doing with their writing. Alex Gray, now one of the most successful of the tartan noir crowd with her grim Scottish crime stories. Chris Longmuir, now an established crime writer who won the Dundee Prize just a few years ago. Joyce Begg, who was one of the adjudicators at the conference, and has won a shelf load of awards herself and is now a stalwart of many magazines writing serials and short stories. Nicola Morgan was there, fresh from her win at the Scottish Book Awards, and Katie Grant and Catherine Czerkawska and so many others.
I always came back from that conference buzzing with ideas, and this was no exception. I also heard two qutotes I must share with you.
If there is a gun on the wall at the beginning of a story, someone should have been shot by the end  of the story.   That was Checkov! Good advice too.
         After three hours of working, the orange is squeezed dry.  ( and that was my beloved Robert Louis Stevenson)
So I am off to do my three hours before my orange dries up!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

It's March already!

So here it is, March already. And on the 1st of this month Secret of the Shadows was published! The second in the Tyler Lawless series and I think the scariest book I have ever written. I can remember the very night I got the idea for this book. I was in Lancashire for the Book Festival there, doing a tour of schools and each night I stayed in a different hotel. One night I was dropped off at my hotel and when I went into the lobby there was no one at reception, just a very elegant lady sitting at the bar, sipping a cocktail. I can still picture her;  dark hair, long legs, black spiky stillettos, red and white spotted dress. I crossed to her and was just about to ask if she knew how to contact someone from reception when I realised she was a life sized doll! It seems this hotel is famous for its dolls. Scrooge was standing on the stairs, nightshirt, nightcap, lamp in hand looking so real it was scary, and on the way to my room I passed a waiter, carrying a tray of drinks, a napkin draped over his arm. If I hadn't known any better I would have sworn that he had stepped back just that moment to let me pass. I imagined them coming to life when everyone was in bed, and the hotel was silent, walking the corridors, climbing the stairs. So you can imagine that by then I was in a spooky mood. I had a large room and by the window, there was an armchair with two cushions and a reading lamp hanging over the back of it. I woke up in the middle of the night, and  in the darkness I could have sworm someone  was sitting in that chair . I almost fell out of the bed, switched on the light and of course there was no one there. The lopsided reading lamp looked like someone's head , and the cushions looked like someone's elbows, sticking out on either side. But when I finally switched off the lamp again, I could still swear that someone was sitting there. And I thought...what would I do if that shadow stood up and came toward me. And in Secret of the Shadows, it does.
   So many exciting things are happening in March. I now have an official trailer for Out of the Depths.  You have to watch it. It is terrific, voted on and chosen by the very people I write for! Mark Chong and his wonderful team have done a brilliant job. A future film maker I am sure of it. The winning school was Stewart Melville's in Edinburgh. I have shown the trailer at all the schools I have visited since World Book Day and they were all totally spooked by it. So it must be good. Check out to see it!
  I so love writing these Tyler Lawless mysteries. She is the heroine of the Unlawfully Dead, and with every book I discover something new about her and her special gift. She is learning too. Learning what she can do, and how she can do it. What I want to know is, what do you think Tyler Lawless should do next. Let me know via the websites. or
  I have already written the Dead Teacher story. I originally called this, Spiritted Away, but then I learned there is a Japanese animated movie with the same name. So I have to find a new title, and there will be a competition on the website to see if you can come up with one for me!
  And as if that wasn't enough, I still have the film to look forward to. I've been told it is all going well, coming together nicely. Going into production in the Spring! I am keeping my fingers, toes, eyes, all crossed so that nothing goes wrong.
  But I will keep everyone posted about that.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I love New Year. It is like a new beginning, looking forward to the year ahead. And I am lucky enough to have so much to look forward to. This month a short novel I wrote is coming out. The Football Shirt, and I am so looking forward to that. I am launching it in a school in Perth. In March, my new book comes out, the second in the Tyler Lawless series, Secret of the Shadows. I'm hoping to be able to launch that, as I did with Out of The Depths, at the Mitchell Theatre. And I'm already getting so much wonderful feedback about Out of The Depths. Just read a fantastic review on the FantasticReads blogspot. Also in March, or thereabouts, the film of Another Me is going into production. It is going to be called Panda Eyes, and I am so excited about it. Keeping my fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong. I have been so close before. I almost had a television series, you know, way back in the '90s. We Gotta Get Outta This Place was commissioned for five episodes, and they even made a studio pilot before it got the thumbs down. My radio series, My Mammy and Me, was also commissioned for television. Granny Nothing was originally, even before it became a book,  commissioned by the BBC as a telvision series. But a change of controller, or producers leaving meant that too came to nothing. Would you believe I was hanging round BBC Television Centre in London with the likes of Steven Moffat?  But with Another Me, I think this will happen. So I am going to enjoy the moment. I have met the people in charge of production and they are all so nice, as is the director/scriptwriter, Isobel Coixet She has a great reputation, so many fine actors want to work with her. She wants to make the film as scary as The Ring, so that can't b bad, eh? And when things start happening I am going to start a film blog so you can follow the progress of the movie too. No matter what, I think this team will make a quality film.
  I am going to start another blog too. I visit so many schools, do creative writing workshops with them, and am always asked by teachers if I have ever thought of writing a book using the exercises I give to pupils. Of course i have, it's already written. But you have to wait so long for a book to come out, I thought I would rather do it as an exercise by exercise blog, so  teachers, pupils, young creative writers can follow the tips too. So look out for that one.
  My head is filled with Resolutions, or revolutions as my grandson Robert calls them. Maybe he's right, I want to change things for the better. And I am one of those annoying people who think only you can change things, only you can take responsibility for your life.
  So what am I doing this second Sunday of 2012? I am reading through stories which were written because of a wonderful competition I set for Perth Academy last year. I gave them a first line, and the stories they have produced are so imaginative, and such fun to read.
  And the first line I gave them : I should have been hailed as a hero for what I did. Instead they all turned against me, and now, I will have my revenge.
  There, it's yours. What would you do with that line?