I had quite a complicated childhood. I had three dads by the time I was 10. That’s probably why dad characters are really important in my books like Foul Play and the Football Academy series. A lot of children’s books keep parents out of the way, but I like to keep them close and write about the different kinds of dad you can have.
I am a dad now. I have one daughter. I get a lot of ideas for my books from things my daughter and I have done together. Making a model Spitfire with my daughter and telling her about what that plane did inspired me to come up with Spitfire, where a child goes back in time to fly a Spitfire in the Second World War.
Being a dad of a girl as well as meeting 10,000s of girls (and boys) in schools every year means that I know how important it is to have strong girl characters in my books. Secret FC is about two girls who start their own football team. Typhoon features two sisters who have to fly the RAF’s fastest plane. The Squad and Foul Play series have leading girl characters too.
I have always loved football. That’s why a lot of my books are set in the game. But I think football alone in a book can be a bit uninspiring, so I like to mix football with other genres: crime in Foul Play, spies in The Squad, ghosts in Defenders and Ghost Stadium and war in Over the Line.
One of my first jobs was working for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. My job was to record books for blind students to listen to. Blind characters are rare in books. That’s why I made Danny’s dad in Foul Play blind. I wanted Danny to read books with his dad. Danny’s dad loves crime fiction. That’s how Danny knows about how crimes are solved in crime fiction. He’s read dozens of them to his dad.
I had several jobs other before I was an author. I was a milkman. I worked in a warehouse. One of my favourite jobs was working in bookshops. I worked for Waterstone’s and in 1997 I won the Bookseller of the Year Award.
I spent several years working for libraries. My job was to put on author talks and book promotions. That’s why I love having scenes set in libraries in my books. You can find library scenes in Boys United and several others.
I struggled with reading when I was young. I didn’t have the stamina to read long books. My mum got me reading newspapers and magazines about football to build my reading up. I liked them: they were about what I was interested in. Football.
Football is a rich game. That means that criminals are attracted to it. I wrote Foul Play so that its main characters, Danny and Charlotte, could defeat criminals in football. They take on ex-players burgling old teammates houses (Killer Pass), football agents who are making slaves of young African footballers (Off Side) and more.
I like rugby too. Being from Leeds I am into rugby league. I’ve done five rugby league books about fans and players. The full list is Scrum, What’s a Bear to Wear, Interchange, The Last Try and Haka Boy.
More recently I’ve become a big rugby union fan too. My daughter and I have season tickets at Yorkshire Carnegie and we go to watch England. My Rugby Academy series came about once we started to enjoy watching live rugby union.
I like to travel to new places to write my books. When I was writing the Rugby Academy books we took family holidays in Toulon and New Zealand so that I could combine finding out what I needed to know with a holiday. Surface to Air is set in Toulon and Deadlocked in Auckland.
I love setting books in other countries. It’s a great way of travelling the world. I’ve set books in the Arctic (White Fear), Ghana (Off Side), Russia (Dead Ball), Poland (Black Op and The Real Thing), Italy (Own Goal), New Zealand (Deadlocked) and several in France.
I met my wife in the Sahara Desert. We had our first conversations in the vast open spaces of the daytime and night time desert. It was one of the best weeks of my life and an experience I’ll never forget. That’s why I set the beginning of Black Op in the desert.
I try to have new experiences that I can put in my books. When I needed to write about three boys camping in an abandoned haunted football stadium for Ghost Stadium I went to camp in a football stadium all night on my own. So I knew what it felt like and could describe how it sounded, looked and felt.
It wasn’t that scary on the football stadium all night. To make the book more frightening I drew on an experience I remembered from when I was 20, when a friend of mine thought she was being haunted. And so did I.
Many of my books feature forces families, particularly the Royal Air Force. That came from me working with the RAF Museums, where I am the writer in residence. They helped me write the Wings series. And children at schools with forces families helped me understand what it is like to have parents in the forces for the Rugby Academy books.
Several of my books are set in wars. Spitfire is about a boy who goes back in time to fly a Spitfire in the Second World War. Flyboy about a boy who flies a Sopwith Camel in the First World War. I like writing about war because I want to try to understand how people can be so brave when such terrible things are happening.
I have written two books set in the trenches of the First World War. More than any place those battlefields are the hardest to imagine. Visiting the trenches and museums as well as reading first-hand account of trench warfare helped me do my best when writing Over the Line and The Last Try. Because of that Over the Line is the book I am most proud of writing.
The other book that I am most proud of is Off Side. It is about fair trade. That means making sure people who make things for us are paid properly. I went to Ghana in Africa with Divine Chocolate to visit fair trade cocoa bean farms. I learned a lot and I hope that comes through in the book.
Watching and reading the Last Kingdom series became a bit of an obsession and led me to read history stories by authors like Bernard Cornwell and Rosemary Sutcliff. They blend believable history with spectacular stories. It made me want to write my own. Historical research and visiting British & Irish historical sites inspired my new Defenders series: Anglo Saxon / Viking in Killing Ground. Romans in Dark Arena. Iron Age in Pitch Invasion.