How Emily Bronte Changed My Life

I

When I was younger I didn’t think books could be set in the sort of places people actually lived. I understood that books were set in unreal magical places. Or London.

I certainly had no idea they could be set in Yorkshire. Or – even – be written by people from Yorkshire.

As a result, when I started reading and writing for pleasure, I didn’t think it was a career option. I was just something I did.

I was 20. School had gone badly. I’d been unemployed. But, with a sudden love of reading, I started an A level at night school in Leeds. Things were changing.

Within a month of starting the A level, we had read Wuthering Heights and watched film of the poem V. by Tony Harrison. One set on the moors above Haworth. One set in Leeds. A double dose of Yorkshireness.

I had my epiphany then.

You know? That great moment in your life when everything changes.

My epiphany: I could write about where I was from! And… I could be a writer. As a job!

 

II

Tomorrow I am launching my new book Killing Ground in Halifax.

Because it is set in Halifax.

On the moor next to where they host the Halifax Agricultural Show. At the Shay football and rugby stadium. In the new central library. Inside the town’s extraordinary Piece Hall. And on the streets that connect all those places.

I will visit four Halifax schools to tell them about a book set on their doorstep. I’ll tell them about Emily Bronte. And Ted Hughes, who lived just up the road. I’ll tell them about me.

And I’ll tell them they can read about Halifax in fiction. And write about it too.

You can find out more and read the first chapter of Killing Ground here.

Researching Anne Frank House 2017

During July I will be writing a live story that schools and families will be able to download for free in nine cliffhanging episodes.

Dutch Diaries will be about Lily, a thirteen-year-old girl who is going on a school trip to Holland. In Holland Lily and her friends will watch England’s opening game in the Women’s EUROs and will visit major sites in Amsterdam, notably the Anne Frank House. The idea is to create a story that will engage children with the tournament and the Anne Frank story.

I had not been to the Anne Frank House before, so, in May, I visited it with my wife and thirteen-year-old daughter. We saw the superb and thought-provoking museum about Anne Frank’s life in Amsterdam. We saw the secret annex where the Franks and their friends hid until they were betrayed and taken away to the death camps. We saw film and photographs that helped us to understand what happened to Anne Frank after that.

It was difficult. But it is one of the best things I have ever done with my family.

I wanted to see the Anne Frank House through the eyes of my daughter, to help me with my story, but also as a dad. The bookcase that hid the secret stairway up to Anne’s hiding place. The cramped rooms they lived in. One of the books of her actual diaries, with the distinctive tartan pattern.

Mostly we looked in silence. Everyone was silent. People occasionally pointing.

Towards the end I asked my daughter how the Anne Frank House made her feel. She said she was angry. Later she said it had made her more aware.

I am writing Dutch Diaries for the National Literacy Trust and the Football Association. Their idea behind the story was to make children – girls and boys – more aware of the Women’s EUROs. To get them behind the Lionesses. But both organisations were very keen, also, that we used Dutch Diaries to raise awareness of the Anne Frank story and how there are stories about children today that we need to be angry about and more aware of.

Dutch Diaries will be published on July 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19 and 20 by 8 a.m. here.It is written – roughly! – in the style of the very popular Dork Diaries books by Rachael Renee Russell. (My daughter will be helping with that too.)

Chapter one is already available here.

It will be a live story in that I will write it each day and include events from the tournament and other possible news stories as they occur during July. That will include me going to watch England’s opening game against Scotland in Utrecht.

A writing exercise linked to the football tournament and the story will be published on each of those mornings too on the same webpage.

I will also be writing a blog about the tournament, story and other related things. You can read that here.

 

Football Fiction about Girls. Where is it?

 

Why are there no books about girls playing football? Why haven’t you written any? These are questions I get asked.

A lot.

As England Women head to Holland for EURO 2017 with a much better chance of winning a trophy than England men, why is there so little football fiction with girls as the main characters?

This is how I answer.

Well, there are two stand-out series about football featuring girls. The Girls FC series by Helena Pielichaty and the Beautiful Game series by Narinder Dhami.

Both full of excellent stories. Both written by excellent writers. Both out of print.

Product Details

You can get hold of second hand copies of the two series online. But they are not in the bookshops. And library copies will be getting worn out – because they can’t be replaced with new copies and because they get read.

Not great.

Girls FC is available on Kindle, which is some comfort.

I have written several too. In brief:

Secret FC is about two girls who set up a football team at their school when they are banned from playing.

My Squad series – made up of Black Op and White Fear – is about five child spies whose cover story is that they are in an elite football team. Two of the five spies (and footballers) are girls.

All three books in my Wings series feature a mixed sex football team. Book three – Typhoon – leads on two sisters who play the game.

You can buy all those books on Amazon here. You can also buy them in lots of other bookshops and borrow them from public libraries.

But what else is there?

Not much. And it is madness. Women’s football is watched more and read about more than ever. Female football is the fastest growing sport in the UK.

When England perform well at EURO 2017 let’s hope the people who make decisions about what sort of books get published are watching.

Please also see the Literacy with the Lionesses toolkit has book lists of well-written  fiction and non-fiction featuring girls and women in sport. You can download that for free here.