This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


I have just come back from Inverkeithing High School and I have a story to share.

First, though, I had a great time - two large events, each with around 150 pupils, 14-15 year-olds, and a few 13-year-olds, huge hall, microphone that worked, eager faces, really attentive. And some good questions, including some very good questions.

Second, it was lovely to see some 6th form pupils there completely voluntarily, mostly boys. And to see them inspired to buy books when they hadn't planned to and to have them say it was nice to meet me, and to thank me. 

Third, it was a new experience for me to see some pupils actually reading from their own copies of Wasted while I was reading from it - their faces were a picture of excitement, even though they'd already read that bit!

But what I want to share with you is a comment by a girl who came up to me afterwards. Now, this will only make sense to you if you have read Wasted, but this is what she said:

"You know how you were talking about how everything could be different if something before it had happened differently? And you know you were talking about failing to get published for 21 years? Well, just think: if you hadn't had those years of failure, your mind would be different and you might never have come up with the idea for Wasted."

She was so right; had so very got it. I was gobsmacked. That required some seriously deep thought, some thought-experiment, out-of-the-box thinking.And she was one of the younger ones.

NOW do you see why I write for teenagers??

Anyway, to the librarian, Angela Macari, her lovely daughter, Nicole, and all the pupils of Inverkeithing High School whom I met today, have a lovely summer holiday and enjoy your reading - you never know how it might change your life.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


I've kept you waiting long enough. It's time to announce some competition results.

This was where you had to guess whether Jess was originally going to be called Josie, Laura or Izzy.

There was an interesting result to this. First, only one person got it right. Second, of those who got it wrong, everyone apart from one thought the correct answer was Josie. And third, something a bit odd and Wastedesque has happened. See, when I thought of the two wrong options of Josie and Laura, I thought I was doing it purely randomly, just picking names out of my head and they could have been anything. Then I forgot about it. A few days ago, I started writing a new book. I couldn't think of the character's name at first, and then the name I chose was...Josie, again thinking it was just any name. Only when I looked at all the competition entries last night did I realise that a) Josie was one of the false options I'd given you, and b) that everyone apart from two of you would think that was the correct answer.

Are you spookily reading my mind, or what?

Anyway, the winner of that competition is the only one who correctly guessed that Jess was originally going to be called Izzy. And that clever person is...Isla Donaldson! Well done, Isla! (This is not the first time Isla has won a book from me - she won a writing comp on my other blog a while ago.)

And then there was the competition to say what Farantella's real name was. Surprisingly, there were only two entries to this. And, amusingly, the entries were from Isla and her mother, Clare! They both got the right answer - Doreen - so I had to choose which of their reasons for picking them I liked better. I liked them both a lot because they were witty and very nice to me, but I chose Clare, simply because I couldn't have her being beaten by her daughter AGAIN!

So, Clare and Isla both need to tell me which of my books they'd like and who they'd like them signed to.

This was a fascinating one. Check out the entries here. I asked each entrant to suggest a method whereby I could pick as randomly as possible. I would then choose the method I preferred and then use it to determine the winner.

So, first I had to decide whose randomness generator I preferred. Because I'm lazy, I looked for the easiest method and Captain Black's was the one. It was also, basically, magic. Utterly cool to someone of my little brain. Try it. You copy and paste this code into your browser:

javascript:alert (1 + Math.floor (Math.random () * 100));

(Replace the 100 by whatever number you want - in my case 15 because there were 15 entries.)

When I applied Captain Black's method, I got the number 5. Which means that the winner is.... Lacer! Well done! So, Lacer, please email me your address and say which book you'd like and to whom you'd like it signed.

So, thanks to all of you for being good sports and amusing me and better luck next time.

Meanwhile, there's still the chance to enter TWO competitions. Go here and check out the two last competitions. Go for it!

Sunday, 20 June 2010


What a lot of entries I had for this competition! And the standard was quite extraordinary, in both age categories. I'd like to make a special point of thanking and praising an Edinburgh school, George Watson's College, for sending in so many entries and for producing the winner and several commended entries.

As I'm a chicken, I decided to choose an expert guest author as a judge. My first choice, and a very easy one, was the talented and delightful Nik Perring, and I was so pleased that he accepted. I knew he'd take it very seriously and consider the stories carefully, which I knew they deserved. But I knew how busy he would be, as he has just had a book out, and so I was all the more grateful to him for accepting. To make it fair, my assistant, Catherine, sorted all the entries into a document and removed the names, so that Nik wouldn't feel awkward if he recognised any of the writers.

A bit about Nik Perring:
1. He's had loads of stories published, plus a children's book, and most recently a brilliant collection of flash fiction pieces, published by RoastBooks and titled Not So Perfect. It's beside my bed just now and I am horribly reluctant to finish it because each one is such a gem. If you look on Amazon you'll see some amazing reviews and I will be adding mine.

2. He has a great blog - If you're at all interested in the process and art of writing, do check it out.

3. You can follow him on Twitter as @nikperring

4. He's lovely.

And now I will hand you over to Nik.
Before the winners are announced, I’d like to thank Nicola for asking me to judge the fabulous WASTED flash fiction competition – it was an honour and a privilege. I’d also like to explain a little about how I chose my winners.

What I look for in a good piece of flash fiction is, mostly, a good story. I want to be able to read something that’s believable and affecting and that moves me in some way; I want it to make me laugh or cry or think. And I want, ideally, the story to last long after the final word, to stay with me after I’ve put it down.

And in reading all of the entries (many times over two days!) I found that pretty much all of them fitted that, in one way or another. The quality was brilliantly high and I was impressed, not only that so many people had written flash fiction pieces, but that they’d written them so well.

Of course, that left me with a problem: picking winners.

And it was a BIG problem. So I ended up drawing up a short list, for both categories, of six. And from there, after much head scratching and frowning I eventually picked a winner. Eventually.

Congratulations to all who entered. And I’m not just saying this - but every entry was good.

I hope you all keep writing short fiction because you’re all rather good at it!
I second all that! And now, here are Nik's decisions. The winner in each category gets a signed copy of Wasted, or any other of my books. (By the way, you may notice that occasional punctuation or small errors have often not spoilt the overall enjoyment of the reader. I would also like to point out that I happen to know that most of the school entries were done in one lesson, without warning, and with no time to proof-read or do much tweaking.)

CATEGORY A – school age (including 6th form college students)

WINNER: Ellis Smith (13)
My head was pounding, everyone was unnoticeable, out of focus. The monitor was bleeping powerfully. The hospital bed was brick, my cuts and bruises were agonizing. Thoughts came and gone in my head, was it luck or fate for Marcus? Was he in the same position as me?
(Nik says: An excellent piece of flash fiction which does what flash should – it delivers a brilliantly affecting story which lasts far beyond the last word. Excellent.)

Eve Kelsey (17)
A girl lay in the field, her lover lay beneath her. They’d always dreamed of visiting Paris, and now they finally had the chance, after years of turmoil and disaster. She smiled, then suddenly wept- and reached out a trembling hand… to caress the broken cross, amidst the poppies.
(Nik says: I love the way this works as a whole story in such a small amount of, very cleverly used, words. Excellent and touching ending without being too obvious.)

Jonny Urquhart (13)
Harris was a boy, the luckiest boy alive. It all started because once he walked into a shop and bought a lovely chocolate ice-cream and won the prize of the thousandth person to buy it. He was very lucky because the boy in front of him had decided on vanilla.
(Nik says: I really liked the narrator’s voice in this. And it made me laugh. Excellent work!)

Heather Philp (age not known but I think 13, as in same school class as the other 12/13 year-olds)
She bowed her head as a river appeared to flood from her eyes, drowning her black patent shoes in tears of sorrow.

I wanted to comfort her, to tell her that everything would be all right. That mum would get better. I was wrong, fate just wasn't on my side.
(Nik says: A story packed with emotion which was brilliantly and concisely told. And a killer ending.)

Daniel Baird (12)
My Stolen Jet
The alarm sounded to tell us there was a Luftwaffe attack. I ran outside to find my plane but someone was already at my jet.

"Oi! That my jet!"

 He never heard and was taking off.

 I saw my jet in the sky. It was a giant ball of fire.
(Nik says: Excellent and atmospheric with impressive dialogue.)

Hannah Nicholson (13)
Looking back on Chance.
There was once a boy.  An unusual boy.  You were never certain of what he was up to, in fact you were never certain of where he was.  He was never around in daylight.  He only showed up, creeping in shadows at midnight. Maybe it's chance I never knew him.
(Nik says: A lovely, mysterious short tale)

CATEGORY B - adults...

WINNER: Tanya Byrne
Cats and dogs
Mum says that rain is God crying.  Actually, it’s me.

It rained the day she died; at the funeral; at the foster home while I waited for someone to tell me that I was going to be a hero, that my powers would save the world.

It rained and rained.
(Nik says: This is a perfect example of what flash fiction is and can do. The word count’s tiny and yet there’s SO MUCH here, and it echoes long after the final word. And when all that’s coupled with smooth writing and an excellent and believable voice it has to be my winner. Brilliant and affecting. Congratulations.)


Stephanie Butland
He shouldn’t have left. Not tonight.

Sharp shadows spike from his feet as he runs, runs, lungs wailing, to a wired white room where her breath barely shivers the air.

He is almost here, but corridors, lifts, stairs sprawl between them.

Her cold hand suddenly colder.

He’s too late.
(Nik says: A brilliant piece which captures so much in such a small number of words. Full of atmosphere and excellent writing.)

Barbara  O Connor

I always said, “It won’t happen to me”.  I was wrong and you were born.  It’s strange that we can produce another life, yet can’t always save our own.

 I feel that part of you, so unselfishly given, filling me with life. I am so glad you happened to me.
(Nik says: I love the language used here, love how the writing’s to the point and all the words are the right ones. There’s a lovely, honest tenderness here too.)

Kate Kelly

Keep playing, bows on strings. Don’t stop. All paths converge on this moment. Nothing could have changed that. Fate.

The sky is starlit clear, the air filled with screams. They can’t drown our music with their panic. But the music will drown. The deck tips. Titanic sinks.
Keep playing.
(Nik says: Brilliant in its brevity and it captures a moment we’re all familiar with wonderfully. It’s what’s unsaid that makes this work.)

Dan Metcalf

“If you got pregnant now, would you keep it?”

We’d been arguing.  I guess I wanted ammunition.  I just wanted to know if she loved me.  We’d been dating for years, but I wasn’t convinced.  It was a cheap trick.

She turned, eyes glistening:

“What do you mean ‘if’?”
(Nik says: A perfect snapshot of a life-changing conversation. Well written. And it made me laugh.)

José Kilbride
"So, what do you think it was? Luck?"
"Okay, what then?"
"Sheer bloody stupidity on my part and an extraordinarily forgiving
(Nik says: Another piece that made me smile. I especially like the form of this – I think the writer’s been brave and that (s)he’s produced something believable, funny and moving.)

Congratulations to all the named authors and especially, of course, to the two winners, Ellis Smith and Tanya Byrne! Catherine will be in touch to ask where to send your prizes and I will sign the books and write to you personally.

To the others: remember, all fiction reading is about personal response. A different judge might have made a different choice. I might have made some different choices. If Nik had eaten something different for breakfast, HE might have made a different choice! That's what Wasted is about, after all, the tiny things that make us do what we do.

The choice you made, the thing you could and did control, was to enter the competition. And in doing so, who knows what positive changes you have created in your life?

So, whether or not you were lucky this time, well done and thank you for contributing to a wonderful standard of entries. Oh, and on Tuesday I'll be announcing some winners of other competitions. Meanwhile, there are still two competitions to enter. Go here and check out the last two on the page. If you don't enter, you can't win!

PS - the librarian at George Watson's has just emailed me to say that "by chance" (as always!) my email telling her about all their success came on the morning of the year prize-giving, so the pupils had their achievement read out in front of the whole year group. Lovely!!

Friday, 18 June 2010


Today I am over at lovely author Lucy Coats's blog - ScribbleCityCentral - talking about myths. I was brought up on a rich diet of myths of all sorts. They are stories that permeate all cultures and affect and influence writers all around the world. They are gory, shocking, violent, scary, passionate, exuberant and just great fun.

So, if you'd like to see Lucy's piercing questions and what she managed to make me say, head over there!

The Greek and Roman myths, which are the ones I know best, are so much about fate and chance and luck that I think it's highly likely that they influenced my thinking in Wasted and caused the obsession that I have with the part that chance plays in our lives.

And, of course, the Oedipus story is firmly at the centre of Wasted. Lucy got me talking about that in a different blog post, too - if you want to know why I hate the Oedipus story so much, go here. There was some pretty hefty discussion after it, too!

Saturday, 12 June 2010


This week I've been around the UK doing school events for Wasted and I've had a lovely time answering superb questions from pupils who have really engaged with the ideas behind the book. When I set out to write it, I worried that because it was such an unusual book lots of people would find it TOO unusual, but if they have they haven't told me! (Long may that continue...)

Bizarrely, I also heard this week that my previous novel, Deathwatch, was the No 1 best-seller for the year June 2009 to June 2010 in the Edinburgh Children's Bookshop, outselling JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Michael Morpurgo and everyone! I can hardly believe this and I'm wondering if the bookshop owner, Vanessa Robertson, might have made a mistake but she assures me she didn't. So, Vanessa wonders, can she do the same for Wasted? I hope so. She's certainly selling it well already.

But, I need your help, since if Wasted is to sell well it's going to need word of mouth success. It is actually achieving that at the moment, thanks to you and to some fabulously supportive friends. When a book is not a "highlight" title for its publishers,  the author has to work extra hard, and that's what I'm doing - nothing special: all authors have to do this, unless they're big commercial sellers with big marketing budgets. So, if you enjoyed Wasted, please do one thing for me: tell a librarian. Librarians are very important when it comes to spreading the word about books and without them authors are dead. There's a press release which you can give them to explain about the response the book has had - if you want one, let me know and I'll email you a copy.

Do I sound desperate? I am! I've had the most fabulous response to the book on Amazon, Twitter, blogs and in The Times, among other places, and I just want it to have the best chance. Until I know I've done my best for it, I can't get stuck into writing my next one.

It's an emotional roller-coaster being a writer!

Friday, 4 June 2010


There's something funny going on when people read Wasted. I have lost count of the number of people who, in reviews or comments, have said something about the reader having control, or the reader getting to choose an outcome or path.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm NOT cross or criticizing them but in fact they are! There are two reasons why I want to point this out and talk a little about it.
  1. It may make people who haven't read it think it's going to be like one of those "quest" books from the 1990s, where the reader could choose different paths. Anyone who has read Wasted knows that nothing could be further from the truth. I tell the story and the reader has no choice at all until the end (and I'll come to what sort of a "choice" that is in a minute.)
  2. I find it interesting that some readers subconsciously feel in control when they are not, and I want to think about why that might be.
I think that's because the unique narrator / narrative voice in Wasted allows the reader to see what it (the narrator) sees. So, in a way that you don't often find, the reader is fully aware of everything, looking down on the characters from exactly the same viewpoint as the godlike narrator.

So, because you assume that the narrator (or author) is in control, you assume that the reader also is.

But no, the reader has no control. In fact, the narrator doesn't have much either. The narrator simply directs you as to what to see, but is entirely at the mercy of what happens. The narrator is little more than photographer and wise spectator combined.

So, what about the "choice" that the reader is supposed to have at the end? Some people have called this a choice of endings. No, you have no choice of endings! You have only one choice: whether to toss the coin and follow it to the ending that it gives you, or to refuse to toss the coin and just read both endings. (Of course, I fully expect that even if you do toss the coin, you will read both endings...).

And it's this funny thing about choice, too: do we really have choice? (I believe we do, but it's hard to explain and prove.) When you chose to toss the coin or not, was that really your choice or have I influenced you and primed you so much that, when combined with either your natural curiousity or your natural refusal to do what you're told, you really have no choice at all? Is an author really more godlike than you suppose? Have I manipulated you into believing that it makes any difference at all whether you spin the coin or not, so that you either decide you must or that you mustn't?

DOES it make any difference at all whether you spin the coin or not?

Why is it that we can KNOW that an author is making a story up and yet believe in the characters and their situation so fully that we seem to believe and feel their pain? So fully that we even have to consider whether spinning a coin is the right thing to do to find out what happens to them?

DOES it make any difference at all whether you read Wasted or not? Will it make you think differently? Will that be a good thing or not? 

But then, you know, every book changes you. Everything you hear or read or see or think changes you. In ways you can't predict or control.

Which is what Wasted is, essentially, about. Probably the only choice you have is whether to read it or not - after that, you are putty in my hands! Yay for author power! That's why I write: I'm power-crazy...