Tour de French Literature

This fortnight I am cycling round all Leeds’ 36 public Libraries. The idea is to use the buzz around the Tour de France’s start in Leeds to promote library use to kids.

The main reason I am doing this tour is because Leeds Libraries intervened in my life several times and gave me extraordinary opportunities.

One of those things was how I was introduced to French Literature.

I can remember the first moment now. I had been to the Central Library looking for sports books. I’d found some and was idling in the fiction section on my way back to the counter.

And a book jumped out at me.

The Outsider by Albert Camus.

I liked three things about it. The author had an exotic name. It was very short. And, I was an outsider – i.e. an eighteen-year-old young man who thought he was an outsider.

I borrowed The Outsider and it blew my mind. I had never read anything like it. It didn’t say what was right or wrong. Not exactly. That astonished me.

I was back at the library the next week. I scanned the shelves for something with a title that spoke to me. With an exotic author name.

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

It was a hard read for an inexperienced reader like me. But I was a jealous man. I was in my first long-term relationship and I was feverish with jealousy. The book’s repetitive obsessive rhythms gave me something. I’m not sure what. But it did.

The next visit to the library took me to the literature sections. I found a book on French fiction. I read some of it and understood even less of it. But I made a list of authors I wanted to read.

Zola. Celine. Maupassant. Sartre. Flaubert. To name a few.

I found them all on the shelves at Leeds Library. I became a lover of French fiction. I still am.

On another library visit – not long after that – I went to the travel section. I borrowed a book on France. I read about Rouen Cathedral and Flaubert. About Maupassant and boats heading up the Seine. Mediterranean beaches where you could murder a man. And Zola’s squalid Paris from L’Assomoir.

That was my Tour de French Fiction.

And it did became my Tour de France. I started to save up. All autumn, winter and spring. In the summer I went to France to visit those settings.

Without Leeds Library none of that would have happened. And a lot of other things that have happened to me since would not have happened either.

Allez les blues!

Tour de Leeds Libraries

Tour de Leeds Libraries

During the next two weeks I will be visiting all of Leeds’ thirty-six public libraries. By bike.

I am doing it because cycling is the big thing for kids in Leeds at the moment: the Tour de France starts in the city on July 5th and everyone is getting pretty excited about it.

Also, because I want the next big thing for kids to be libraries.

I’ll have half an hour in each library – four a day – to talk to a class of year three and four children, visiting from a local school. I’ll ask them if they use libraries and tell them about how Leeds Libraries changed my life. I am also going to read them a story I have written for the tour. About a girl who goes on a different adventure each time she borrows a library book. Which is kind of what libraries do.

There’s a full schedule of my tour on my website. It’s about 250 miles in all. The worst/best day is 40 miles. I’m a bit worried about that one, to be honest. I’m not a great cyclist. But I’ve done a bit of training. I should be okay.

The highlights – for me – will be Leeds Central Library and Oakwood Library. The places where libraries worked their magic. It’ll feel good returning to those. I wouldn’t be an author if it wasn’t for Leeds Libraries.

More importantly, I wouldn’t be a reader. I love reading. It makes me think. It makes me happy. It gives me something I can’t even put into words. I want to get that across. Somehow.

Tour de Leeds Libraries was organised with Leeds Schools Library Service and Leeds Libraries. It is funded by Leeds Inspired. There is a free resource of literacy activities to do with the Tour de France that libraries, schools and families across the UK might find useful.

I’ll be tweeting as I go, using the hashtag #TourDeLeedsLibraries.

Foul Play: Brazil

The National Literacy Trust World Cup story starts tomorrow (Wednesday 11th June). Twenty-five episodes to be read aloud at school, in the library, or at home. With a lot of cliff hangers.

It is called Foul Play: Brazil. And this is the first chapter.

During the World Cup I will be writing each of the episodes the evening before publication. Then – less than twelve hours later – it will be available free on the National Literacy Trust website. It will be published on weekday mornings only. At 8 a.m. It’s free.

I am writing it so late in the day so that the story can be influenced by events in Brazil on and off the pitch. I want it to feel live and relevant, so that it feels like it is really happening.

But I am nervous. There are a lot of schools following it. Thousands of children sat in classrooms listening to my story. What if it’s not good enough?

I’ve never been so nervous about writing something.

I had some feedback from chapter one (the only chapter written in advance) from a school earlier today. Most of the feedback was good. But one girl said:

Urg. The football hasn’t even started and I am sick of it already. This story is going to have to be really exciting and dramatic to keep me interested.

That remark shook me, to be honest. What am I doing? This could go so badly wrong.

Then – after while – I thought again. I want to write a story that is as exciting as that girl needs and as relevant as it can be to those following the football.

It’s a challenge. A challenge I intend to take up. Or to try to.

I hope you enjoy the story in your school or library or home.

Thanks for reading.

I hate football

I hate football. Sort of.

I hate a lot of the things the game has become. The disgusting amounts of money involved. The celebrity. The sometime cheating on and off the pitch. Some of the media and how they portray the game. The bribery and extraordinary corruption of some of its ruling bodies.

I could go on.

But I love a lot of the things to do with football too. Being at live games. Watching it on TV. Listening to it on the radio. Reading about it. It suffuses my life and has done for three-and-a-half decades. It is a love that runs deep. A love that brings me as much pleasure as it does pain.

The heroes of my National Literacy Trust World Cup story, Foul Play: Brazil hate football too.

Sort of.

Danny and Charlotte love the game, really. Like me. But they hate how the game they love has been perverted. Like me. And maybe like you.  And millions of others.

This boy and girl – aged 15 – are the heroes of five Foul Play books published by Puffin. They are crime fighters. They take on the corrupters of football. The wrong-doers.

Fictional, of course. But very much based on real things that go on. Real things that annoy me.

For instance:

* a phoney football agent in Ghana who is exploiting and trafficking young footballers to Europe (Off Side)

* an Italian football club owner who uses his satellite TV channels to brainwash children into supporting one major team, not their local team (Own Goal)


* a British football chairman who kidnaps his own star player so that he can sell extra merchandise (Foul Play)

All the crimes in the series are based on real things that happen in a game that some call beautiful, but to a lot of outsiders seems ugly. Danny and Charlotte investigate these crimes. They want to make football beautiful again.

I want my daughter, 10, to love football during this World Cup. She is the perfect age to fall in love with the game, through a World Cup she might remember for the rest of her life. I don’t want her to wonder why I like a game that has hateful things about it. I want it to bring her joy. That’s why I set Danny and Charlotte off to clean up the game.

A chapter of Foul Play: Brazil will be published free on every weekday morning during the World Cup. It will be read aloud in at least 3000 schools.

Read chapter one here.

Thank you for reading.




World Cup Writing Exercises

As well as all the other stuff we’re doing to use the World Cup to promote reading, the National Literacy Trust and I will be creating a daily writing exercise for children.

There is no plan. The idea is to make up a writing exercise each day based on what the kids will be talking about in the playground.

For instance:

* if an England player was to be sent off in one of the matches, the exercise might be to imagine a short dialogue between the player and the England manager as the player comes off the pitch


* if England are playing in the Amazon rainforest (which they are), write about five things an England footballer might see if he went to visit an Amazon village

We want to make writing relevant and immediate. We hope it works.

You need to be a member of the National Literacy Trust to access these. Everything else we’re doing is free to all. Check out what being a member involves here.

I think it’s worth it. One, because you get access to good stuff. Two, because we need to support the National Literacy Trust now more than ever and they don’t get the government funding they used to.

Thanks for you consideration and thanks to the many many many of you responding so positively to this project.


World Cup Reading Tour

I’m touring the UK for the next five weeks. Doing my World Cup Reading Game.

And a bit of bike work.

The plan is to ask the children quiz questions about World Cup newspaper headlines, magazines, websites, fiction and non-fiction. Those who get the questions right get to take a penalty. The winner of the shoot out wins a trophy.

But there’s more to it than that. It is  a chance for me to ask the children what they like to read from all the reading materials above. That’s what I like best about it. Hearing children enthuse about what they have read: and seeing their classmates listen.

Peer to peer reading motivation.  There’s nothing like it.

I start tomorrow in Crewe and finish 33 days later in Basildon. Here are my tour dates.

The cycling bit comes in the middle. More details about that here.

June 7      Crewe and Handshaw Libraries
June 10   St Mary’s Primary, Levenshulme
June 11   Colwich Primary, Staffordshire
June 13   Stewarts Melville, Edinburgh
June 16   Fratton Park, Portsmouth
June 17   Two schools in Andover
June 18   West Thornton Primary, Croydon
June 19   Beacon School, Bucks

June 23 to July 4 Tour de France stuff
36 libraries in 10 days, by bike

July 8    Albrighton Primary, Shropshire
July 9    Ghyllgrove Junior, Basildon

That’s 63 events in all. Plus 250+ miles on the bike in the middle bit. However, during this time, I’ll be writing my daily World Cup story too, Foul Play: Brazil. That, to be honest, will be the real challenge.

World Cup Fact… or Fiction?

foul play 130

The Reading Agency have published a new Chatterbooks pack of ideas for children’s book groups today. Chatterbooks packs are great, often themed around things going on at the time. This pack is about the World Cup.

There are lots of great ideas in it to encourage reading for pleasure. One of the ideas is a set of ten scenarios from the world of football. Five are true. Five are not.

For instance:

  • the England captain is arrested on charges of shoplifting before the World Cup
  • a football chairman kidnaps his own player to increase replica shirt sales
  • the World Cup goes missing and is found by a dog

You have to decide which five scenarios are fact and which five are fiction.

In fact, the five which are not fact really are fiction. They are storylines from my Foul Play series, where a fourteen-year-old boy and girl have to solve football crimes.

Football is full of crime and grasping nasty people. That’s because of the money involved, amongst other things. Look at the news this week. It was even on Newsnight last night.

My young Foul Play sleuths go head to head with the worst kind of football villains. They want to keep football how it should be for children. About football. About friends. About fun.

But can you tell which five of the ten scenarios are fictions?

Have a go here.

Making a World Cup display that will promote reading in your school

Free Toolkit
Free Toolkit

The National Literacy Trust World Cup resource – Love Football: Love Reading 2014 – has a section about creating displays in schools. Displays that we hope will help get children reading for pleasure.

You can read the whole thing here.

But, if you want a quick introduction, the top five ideas for literacy-based World Cup displays in schools are:

ONE: World Cup reading selfies – children and adults showing off their favourite football reads from newspapers, magazines and websites.

TWO: World Cup goal – a 2D goal on the wall with ball-shaped review sheets for kids to stick in the back of the net. Or wide of the mark.

THREE: Free posters of children’s football authors saying what they’ll be reading to keep up to date with Brazil 2014.

FOUR: Teachers recommending their favourite football reads.

FIVE: A giant highly-ambitious World Cup wall chart that will dominate your school hall, reception or other space.

We hope these ideas are useful. More tomorrow.

Sports Writing Academy

I’m in Guernsey. On one of the most exciting writing jobs I’ve had.

I was approached by Steve Willshaw from the education department here. I met him first in Lincolnshire, where he worked before he moved to the Channel Islands. You might know him from his Reading Passports project.

Steve had identified a problem in Guernsey. That a lot of children in Y7 aren’t keen on / confident at / happy reading and writing. But it’s not just a problem in Guernsey, as we know.

Steve wanted to set up a Sports Writing Academy. To use a lot of the reluctant readers’ / writers’ passion for sport to persuade them to see writing as meaningful.

He asked me to help him. Along with four high schools’ PE teachers, English teachers and several well-known Guernsey sports’ stars.

This is what we’ve done so far:

1. We met the Y7s and asked them what sports they liked to play / do.  Then we asked them for more detail. The kind of detail that might help us develop a story.

2. I went away and thought up some story ideas based on their ideas. I wrote down ten solid ideas and sent them to the children, asking them to choose their favourite six. Which they did.

3. I wrote one story a month for six months. Some of the children read them and suggested edits, but also suggested local detail that would help me make all the stories very much set on Guernsey.

4. I came to Guernsey again and had a look at the settings the children wanted, to help me describe them properly. And also to work with the children on Guernsey – and Alderney – to develop six more story ideas.

By the end of 2014 we will have twelve stories. All defined and edited by the children. All set in the children’s familiar world. We also hope that the children will have developed more desire and confidence to read and write.

I said at the top that this is one of the most exciting writing jobs  I’ve had. That’s not because I get to visit Guernsey, which is very nice. It’s not because today I went searching for sports taking place on the island on Steve’s bike, in the sun. There are two reasons it is so exciting.

One, because I like to work with the children on stories that they feel they are genuinely helping to write, meaning they become more interested in reading and writing.

Two, because I am writing about new sports like bass fishing (a spy thriller), coasteering ( a ghost story) and ballet (a family drama). It’s stretching me as a writer – in big ways.

Thanks for reading.