2013 – Sling Yer Hook!
So, farewell then, 2013. I, for one, am glad to see the back of you. As you may be able to guess, 2013 wasn’t a good year for me, mainly due to ongoing health problems, but there were work issues as well…
In January 2013, I was due to be writing a book based on a popular computer game which fell through at the last moment, leaving me with no work for an entire month. Thinking quickly, I emailed as many schools as I could in the north west, offering them an author visit at half price. Several of them took me up on the offer, allowing me to keep busy and pay the bills – but it was a reminder of how precarious the life of a freelance writer can be.
In February, I came down with my annual heavy cold which – as ever – went straight to my chest. I visited the doctor and was advised – as ever – to double up on my steroid inhalers until the trouble passed. Increasing my steroids isn’t something I like to do as they cause me to put on weight (something I do very easily, despite not having a sweet tooth in any way, shape or form).
March saw me continuing work on the first four books in my new series, Fangs Vampire Spy (visit the official website here!) The publication date for the series had already been put back by six months – twice – and so I was eager to get these books out to my readers. My school visits also continued, despite my constant chest problems and a growing pain in my side. I went back to the doctor who told me that I had pulled a muscle in my side whilst coughing and sent me packing.
The pain continued – and intensified – during April. I was still battling my way through school visits, despite increasingly lengthy coughing fits while I was talking to pupils. I couldn’t sleep at night because of the pain in my side, and my chest rattled like an aged boiler every time I took a breath. Something was wrong, and I knew it. I went back to the doctor again (seeing the same GP yet again – lucky me!) Once again, he said it was a pulled muscle and called for his next patient. I lasted another four days before my wife, Kirsty, finally called an ambulance. I was taken to hospital on a Sunday evening where I was diagnosed as having pneumonia.
I spent a week in hospital being treated for the illness, much of it with an antibiotic drip in my arm and an oxygen mask over my face. Kirsty called round the schools I was booked into for the next few weeks and cancelled my events. I was forced to rest. Although, I have to admit, I did manage to get some work done from my hospital bed ;) I had been asked to pitch some new ideas to an educational publisher called Badger Learning, and that’s where I did my brainstorming – propped up in my hospital bed whilst patched in to an oxygen feed! No wonder I came up with some weird and wonderful ideas!
April wasn’t entirely a disaster, however. My first Doctor Who novel – Shroud of Sorrow – was published to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of my favourite ever TV show. Reviews soon started to come in, almost all of them divided one way or another by my use of characters dressed as clowns in the story. Ah, well… You can’t please everyone.
I started May by taking part in a Doctor Who novelists’ panel at Sci-Fi London, where I appeared alongside some of my own favourite writers – Paul Cornell, Jenny Colgan and the legendary Terrance Dicks. Then it was back to my school visits – but with a twist. Now that Shroud of Sorrow was published, I used the Doctor’s universe as a starting point for creative writing in my new Doctor Who Day events. These visits proved to be hugely popular, and I was soon swamped with requests. I even got to run a couple of them alongside my good pal and fellow (if far more experienced) Doctor Who writer, Mark Wright.
I ended the month with a wonderful week working with schools in Wakefield – a project which would lead to something much bigger later in the year. I also had book deadlines to meet – for books 5 and 6 in the Fangs Vampire Spy series, and my first two books for Badger Learning (the extra oxygen must have paid off as they took six of the 12 ideas I pitched to them!)
June and early July raced by with dozens of Doctor Who Days to enjoy in schools all across the north of England – and then I got another chest infection.
This one hit me hard, knocking me off my feet and causing me to cancel school visits, library events, appearances at book festivals and more. I was due to submit a story to a book celebrating the 15th anniversary of Iris Wildthyme, but had to pull out. I was forced to miss my events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I couldn’t get to a joint event in Fife with my good pal, Barry Hutchison. I felt dreadful letting so many people down, but worse was yet to come.
By August, the pain in my side was back. I had pneumonia – AGAIN!
This time the doctor took me seriously, but agreed to try to treat me at home rather than admit me to hospital. I was put on antibiotics and steroid tablets, and told to stay in bed. The weight piled on, but there was nothing I could do. I had to rest – even when the time came to move house. I had to sit back and watch Kirsty pack and lift everything herself. If I tried to help, I ended up in the midst of a hacking coughing fit. I was no good to anyone.
My illness continued into September, putting paid to many more school visits, my return to the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, and my talks alongside my agent at the York Writers’ Workshop Festival. I returned to see the doctor time and again for blood tests, x-rays, peak flow tests and – on one occasion – a session on a nebuliser while the GP decided whether to admit me back into hospital or not. Thankfully, my breathing improved enough for him to let me go home. I sat in bed and finished the first drafts of my next titles for Badger Learning.
My health slowly started to improve in October, and I was able to get back to work. I managed to give a talk at Cheltenham Festival – although my appearance at the Juice Festival where the first of my newly published Fangs Vampire Spy books was the featured title had to be abandoned. I managed to get to my events at the New Library of Birmingham, and at Mold Library in Flintshire – but not much more.
The first of my books for Badger Learning were published – The Terrible Tale of Melody Doom and Once Upon a Time… I wheezed my way through the Halloween themed wedding of my good pals Spider and Jenni. And then I received the biggest school booking of my career – 45 days in 18 different schools across Wakefield – which filled my calendar from December until the 2014 Easter holidays!
November saw a flurry of Doctor Who Days and two wonderful days at the new YKids Bootle Children’s Literary Festival alongside Alan Gibbons, The 2 Steves and Fiona Dunbar. I even managed to get up to Fife for a few events, despite getting stuck in traffic on my way to the station, missing my train and being forced to drive all the way there and back at short notice!
I took December VERY slowly, and made it to all of my events aside from a gathering of Doctor Who writers at the Groucho Club in London (SO gutted to have missed that!), and now here we are… 1st January 2014. And I’m so happy to be able to type those words!
I’m determined 2014 will be a new start – in more ways than one…
* I want to lose the excess weight I put on last year. I won’t say how much I weigh now – I’m far too embarrassed. My goal is to lose a pound a week, which would result in a loss of 4 stones over the year. If I can lose more than that, so be it – but I’ll be doing it gradually.
* I want to get my heath back under control.
* I want to sell a new book series (more on that as and when).
* I want to enjoy my visits to schools again, rather than worry about coughing fits during my workshops.
I already have a few treats lined up for 2014, including seven new books (the final two instalments in the Fangs Vampire Spy series, four titles from Badger Learning and a hi-lo book from Collins Education). Plus, I received some very exciting news just before Christmas that I can’t repeat here – yet – but, if it happens, will be incredible.
My beautiful wife, Kirsty, and brilliant sons, Arran and Sam, for looking after me at home.
My agent, Penny, for her continued friendship and support.
Every school, library and book festival I couldn’t make it to because of my poor health for their understanding.
So, sling yer hook 2013.
2014 – come here and get a cuddle!