The 'Fletcher Moss' One
Winner: Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition
Shortlisted: Leeds Book Award, Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Award, North East Book Award, Calderdale Children's Book of the Year, Kent Themed Book Award, Branford Boase Award.
The Poison Boy is a middle grade fantasy set during a civil war in the walled city of Highlions, where Dalton Fly - a posionboy - is paid to taste the food of wealthy aristocrats. Dalton stumbles across a nefarious plot he doesn't fully understand, and with the help of Scarlet Dropmore, the daughter of a wealthy and influential family, he embarks upon a reckless quest...
I wrote The Poison Boy in my spare time between 2009 and 2012 then submitted it to The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Award, which it won that year. (I used a pseudonym to trick my inner critic; a technique I'd recommend if you're inclined to self-sabotage during creative projects.)
I still have a great fondness for the book because it was the one that started everything. Occasionally I have to look back over it for a reading or a school visit and when I do I'm invariably impressed with the detailed world-building. I spent years constructing Highlions in my head - it's weird that I almost never go there now. Of course as I re-read I also wince at all the mis-steps.
The Poison Boy was the third novel I finished that was set in Highlions; the first two were never published. One, I recall, was written as a series of letters - Dalton Fly reporting back to his Uncle whom he had replaced on some mission of detection. One publisher, rejecting it, asked me why, in a world of instant communication, I thought an epistolary novel for young readers was a good idea. Fair point...
The Sci-fi Prison Break One
Shortlisted: BASH Award, Wirral Teen Book of the Year Award.
Lifers is a sci-fi adventure that explores the secrets that cities hide at night. Preston Faulkner can't sleep, and walks the city centre streets looking for his missing friend, Alice. One night he discovers an alleyway he's never seen before. At the end is M.I.S.T.; a secret government building. Preston soon finds himself embroiled in a desperate attempt to rescue Alice and bring down the forces behind Axle Six, a prison like no other...
Writing Lifers was like wrestling an otter. I’ve never wrestled an otter, just to be clear. Or any slippery amphibious animal but you get the picture. Fun fact: I threw away more words (80,000) than the whole of the completed story. My publishers were calm and patient while I went through crisis after crisis. I think I learnt more writing Lifers than any of the other books I've attempted, completed or published - it's also the book with the biggest gap between what I imagined and what I managed to produce. Not necessarily a bad thing, though.
As a result of all this, I have a lot of time for Lifers. I still love talking about the novel and reading passages from it. And here's a thing I've noticed - when people get into Lifers, they really get into it. I've had long discussions with readers speculating about the origins of Axle Six, the motivations of the characters, the background to their incarceration, their relationships and possible futures...
p.s. Lifers features a criminal called Patrick Gedge - who pops up in Payback in a very different role.
The Robin Hood Heist One
Shortlisted: Leeds Book Award, North East Teen Book Award, Cheshire Schools Book Award.
Payback are an enigmatic organisation of teenagers who take the law into their own hands. If the government won't redistribute wealth fairly, Payback will. That means stealing from powerful, selfish organisations - corrupt lawyers, casinos, tax-dodging fat-cats - and giving the proceeds to those in need. When Tom Rendall, an ordinary teenager on his summer break, finds himself caught up in a Payback heist, he unwittingly becomes a their newest member. And life gets very complicated indeed.
I'm just going to come right out and say it - I love this book. I may change my mind of course, but as I type this, I want to hug the lovely little thing to my bosom. I've often written about groups of young people coming together to try and achieve something, but with Payback I have a particular fondness for the interrelated gang members. Two girls, two boys and a chaotic newcomer, each with their flaws, foibles and skill sets.
Then there's the heists. The book opens with Payback stealing two Jaguars from a shopping centre and includes the theft of four thousand pounds' worth of rare whisky, a valuable earthenware vase from a lawyers' office, a famous pearl necklace from a country-house wedding show and a laptop from a speeding train. I loved planning and writing those scenes - it was like spending two summers inside a Steven Soderbergh movie.
No bad thing, right?