Tag Archives: Surface to air

How I write 2: Asking my cousin’s son to run up 1000 steps

My nephew ran up a hotel staircase six times so I could get Surface to Air right. He’s was 11. After a night out with his dad and him (curry, etc.), we went to a hotel in Leicester (appropriate city for a rugby book). He ran up five flights of stairs at full pace. Several times. I timed him. The reason for that is in the book.

My daughter has ballet every Saturday mornings. An hour in the centre of Halifax. Right next to the rugby field where Crossley Heath School’s teams play. On Saturday mornings. Watching U15s play is different to watching adults play. I learned a lot.

RAF Centenary Logo 2

I needed to know as much as I could about what it feels like to have a dad or mum in the RAF. Thanks to Albrighton School, which educates the children of the men and women of the RAF base at Cosford, I was able to both talk to them, then ask their opinion of the book’s first draft. Otherwise the book would have been nonsense.

Four more tomorrow.

See How I write 1 and How I write 3.

Find out more about Surface to Air here.

How I write 3: Going to Toulon & meeting an England legend

Toulon is the second most important character in Surface to Air. I went there to research the book. It is a brilliant city. The French fleet sits in the harbour, aircraft carrier and all. You can stare down at it from the top of the very steep hill next to the coast, Mont Faron. You can take a taxi-boat across that harbour. There is also – of course – the Stade Mayol. All four settings feature in the book.


Andrew Sheridan is the reason I could write Surface to Air. I met him when Sale Sharks supported a book festival event I was doing in Manchester. When the former England World Cup finalist moved to finish his career Toulon I contacted him. Please could he help me contact Toulon Rugby? He did more than that. He met me outside the Stade Mayol – home of the European Champions two years on the bounce – and showed me round, let me watch training, chatted to me, introduced me to others and – when he’d gone – fixed it for me to stay and watch the team’s kicker kick. Jonny Wilkinson.

This is not the first time I have demonised the Russians in a book. I did it in Dead Ball too. It is to do with Putin that the meanest team my heroes play is Russian. Enough said. But – to balance things up – in another book, White Fear, a Russian saves the Arctic single-handed. Also, my favourite author is Dostoevsky. Just saying.

I read a lot of books about recent air conflicts to get this book right. About the Balkans, Libya and the Falklands. Once I had read them I invented my own air war – with a focus on humanitarian relief – which acts as a backstory in Surface to Air. That’s where the mum and dads are while the boys are playing rugby. At war.

See How I write 1 and How I write 2.

Find out more about Surface to Air here.

How I write 1: Getting help from Jean Valjean & Jonny Wilkinson

When you have a book coming out, it is a good idea to re-read it. Doing so helps you to remember what you had to find out to be able to write the book. It can reveal forgotten obsessions you had a year or more ago. Or experiences you created for yourself that have changed your life in other ways.

Here are some of mine.

In early 2014 I was obsessed with the musical Les Miserables. It was the only thing I would listen to on the car CD player. I sang along. My Les Miserables obsession was partly why I wanted to set the book in Toulon. The film begins in the docks of Toulon with Jean Valjean and other convicts – heaving a boat in from the sea. I named the book’s heroic French fly-half Jean Valjean.

I read Jonny Wilkinson’s autobiography. It astonished me. It was extremely honest. Wilkinson wrote about how he struggled with everything he did needing to be perfect. He exposed things about his behaviour that he did not need to expose. That is why his book is the best autobiography I have read. That is why I based the hero of Surface to Air – Rory – on Jonny Wilkinson.

It’s the Rugby World Cup later in 2015. Taking place in England and Wales. One of the reasons I wrote the books was to exploit that. If ever a publisher was going to agree to a rugby series for kids then it was now. Credit to Barrington Stoke for being that publisher.

Read How I write 2 and How I write 3 here.

Find out more about Surface to Air here.