Showing posts with label John Dougherty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Dougherty. Show all posts

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Six Delicious Ds by Lynne Benton

I couldn’t find so many authors whose names begin with D, but I did manage to find a splendid half-dozen.

ROALD DAHL was born in Cardiff in 1915, and is one of the foremost children’s authors of the modern age.  His many books, with iconic illustrations by Quentin Blake, have been televised, filmed, staged and made into musicals as well as read by millions.  I’d be pushed to choose the most famous, though “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a perennial favourite.  He died in 1990, but his name is sure to resonate for many years to come.

CHARLES DICKENS.  Although principally known as a writer of books for adults, many children begin to read some of his books at school, such as "A Christmas Carol", "David Copperfield" and "Great Expectations".  Although he was born in 1812, much of his work is still relevant today.  Many of his books have been televised and staged, and some filmed, and quotes from some of them are now widely familiar (“Bah, humbug!” from "A Christmas Carol", to take one example.)

 BERLIE DOHERTY is a modern author, born in Liverpool, who has won the Carnegie medal twice: once in 1986 for "Granny Was a Buffer Girl", and again in 1991 for "Dear Nobody".  Both books are set in Sheffield, and "Dear Nobody" has been adapted for radio, television and the stage.

JOHN DOUGHERTY writes hilarious books for children, most notably his “Stinkbomb and Ketchup-face” series, which have been known to reduce adults as well as children to tears of laughter.  He is also a poet and singer-songwriter, and lives in Gloucestershire.

WALTER DE LA MARE (1823-1956) is less famous now than he used to be, but in 1947 he won the Carnegie medal for his “Collected Stories for Children”, a collection of 17 fantasy stories or original fairy tales.  He also wrote many poems, of which the most well-known is probably “The Listeners”, which begins:
“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller

JULIA DONALDSON, last year’s Children’s Laureate, has written many books for young children, of which “The Gruffalo” is surely her best-known.  It is the delightful story of a mouse who comes face to face with the terrible creature of his imagination, the Gruffalo, and how he tricks the creature into fearing him.  The story has been filmed for television, with familiar illustrations by Axel Scheffler. 

As ever in this series, I've probably left out someone who really should have been included, so do let me know of any.  Next month I have only two authors whose names begin with E, so I shall combine the Es with the Fs.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Hanging Up My Blogging Trousers - John Dougherty

I've been writing for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure for years. More than eight years, in fact; my first post was the sixth to appear on the site, back in July 2008, and - aside from a bit of a break a year or two back during a time of crisis (and, erm, the very occasional month when I've forgotten to post, which has happened to many of us!) - I've blogged for the site ever since. For most of that time, I've also been part of the editorial team.

And it's been fun. But I've come to a point where I feel I ought to hang up my blogging trousers, for a while at least. So to say goodbye for now, I've rather self-indulgently trawled through my back catalogue of ABBA posts and picked out some of my favourites. I hope you'll enjoy revisiting some of them with me.

Five Go To Therapy Together (August 2008) - in which I argue that the Kirrin cousins belong to literature's most dysfunctional family. This was my second post for the blog, and I was rather chuffed to overhear someone discussing it at a Society of Authors conference a couple of months later

Sense and Sensibilities (June 2010) - musings about some of the things publishers will and won't accept these days

What's Wrong With Ed Vaizey? (May 2012) - you knew this one was going to be on the list, didn't you? A song I wrote about the now former and not-at-all-missed Minister for Ignoring the Ongoing Crisis in the Library Service

We Warned You This Would Happen (November 2013) - I got a bit cross in this one. It's about political interference in education

A Confession of my Own (December 2013) - this was my response to one of the most important posts we've ever had on the site, Liz Kessler's Let's Get This Out There from the previous month

The Reasons for Signing (March 2014) - why I think book signings are an essential part of school visits

Why Do We Believe These Things? (April 2014) - over two years later, this one keeps popping up on my Twitter feed, usually because the excellent Let Books Be Books campaign has pointed someone to it. It's about the so-called 'accepted truths' that seem to be handed down through the publishing industry like oral history

The Great OUP Pig Scandal (January 2015) - remember when people got cross about publishers "banning pigs"? This was my take on it

Copyright - It's a Piece of Cake (April 2015) - I'm pretty proud of this one, in which I attempt to explain copyright as simply as possible

And finally, it seems appropriate that I leave you with the song I wrote for what was, as far as we know, the world's first online children's literature festival, held on this site over three days in July 2011 to celebrate our third anniversary.

Bye. *waves*


John's recent books include his first poetry collection, Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones (Otter-Barry Books), and Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers, which is the latest in his Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP.

His first picture-book, There's a Pig Up My Nose, illustrated by Laura Hughes, will be published by Egmont early next year. 

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Bradford Roots Festival in January 2017.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

A postcard from Sydney - John Dougherty

I'm on holiday in Sydney. And something I've noticed is: they have some fantastic bookshops here.

I popped into one of them - Better Read Than Dead, near my sister's house - and asked one of the staff a bit about the bookshop scene in Australia. This is what I found out:

There isn't a big chain dominating the market. There are some little indie chains; shops like Berkelouw (whose Rose Bay branch is pictured) have maybe 6 or more branches (in fact, a quick web search suggests 10), but they're still indie chains, with a single owner - a bit like Foyles in the UK, I think. There were one or two big chains some years back, but they went under during the financial crash.

You do get the occasional customer saying "I can get it cheaper on Amazon", but mostly people don't seem to mind paying proper prices for books - and 'proper prices' in Australia can be more than in the UK; one book I checked at random had a UK retail price of £12.99 but an Australian price of $35, which at current exchange rates works out at almost £20 (though of course the pound is weak at the moment).

Indie bookshops are thriving in the cities and doing well in medium-sized towns; they don't tend to exist in small-town Australia. The woman I spoke to told me that she does sometimes get customers visiting from the smaller towns who leave with an armful of books to keep them going till the next time.

Just as in the UK, there's an issue with supermarkets using bestselling books as loss-leaders - selling them below cost, at a price bookshops can't compete with.

But still, bookshops in Australia seem to be doing well. I asked my friendly interviewee what she attributed this to, and while there were a couple of connected factors - regular late opening hours, till around 9.00 or 10.00pm, for instance; or the events that they run - she put it down to one reason: the support of the community. Bookshops are valued here. People - readers - see their value and want to support them.

Any ideas how we can raise the perceived value of bookshops in the UK?


John's first poetry collection, Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones, will be published in early August by Otter-Barry Books.

The latest in his Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Just So Festival in August.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Yay for PLR!!! - John Dougherty

In all probability, either you'll know pretty well exactly what PLR stands for, or you won't have a clue. If you're a writer - even an as-yet unpublished one - I hope you'll be in the first camp, but if you're not, let me take a moment to explain what is it and why it makes me go "Yay!"

PLR stands for Public Lending Right. It's basically the right of authors to be rewarded when their books are publicly lent. In other words, if people are borrowing your books from libraries, you ought to get paid.

Before my first book came out, I had no idea this existed. It was only when my unusually on-the-ball first editor said, "You must look into PLR - No, you must... No, you MUST!!!" that I did. To be honest, even when I looked into it, it didn't seem worth doing. Five pence (as it was then; now it's more like seven) per loan... But actually, it's been a very handy little stream of income. I've never got anywhere near the maximum you can get - £6,000, I believe - but every time the PLR statement has arrived, it's been most welcome.

I'm choosing today's post to talk about this for one very good reason. If you've had a book (or audiobook) out in the last year, tomorrow is the closing date for registration. That is, you can register your book the day after tomorrow if you like, but you'll have missed out on up to a year's payment. So let me repeat:

Tomorrow is the closing day for this year's PLR registration!

The website is here: If you're a published writer or illustrator and you haven't signed up for it - or you've got a new book you haven't registered - then go! Do it now!

And if you aren't a published author, I hope you'll still join me in thanking the team who administer PLR. They make a big difference to the lives of authors in the UK.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickersillustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is the latest in John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series.

His other new books in 2016 will include the sixth Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face title, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Just So Festival in August.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Poo bum willy - John Dougherty

Forgive the entirely crude title to this piece, but - inspired by the post my friend Tamsyn Murray put up on Wednesday - I've been moved (if I can say that in this context) to pen a few words about toilet humour.

As Tamsyn observed, if you're a children's author there are those who will advise you to put toilet jokes into your books. There are even those who think that this is all you really need to make your book a success.

Are they right? Well - probably not. There's a lot more to writing a children's book than repeatedly shoehorning the word 'poo' into your prose. Otherwise, the top-selling titles would all be books like Pooey McPooface and the Enormous Poo. Which, actually, would get a bit of a laugh.


But probably only once. Taboo-breaking humour is funny precisely because it pushes at the boundaries of a taboo. But the more you break a taboo the less, well, tabooey it feels. Someone walking naked down your local high street would provoke a reaction - perhaps shock, perhaps laughter, perhaps both. But if you could guarantee the sight of a streaker every time you wandered into town, then - even if the prohibition on public nudity remained, and even if the police were to respond with an arrest every time - the effect on passers-by would diminish rapidly. After a few weeks, a passing exhibitionist would be lucky to get an eye-roll.

So am I saying that you shouldn't bother using toilet humour at all? Well, no. But I am saying that it's not an easy option. Writing a good toilet joke - or a good willy joke for that matter, or indeed any joke that pushes at the boundaries - is no easier than writing any other kind of joke. Or, put another way a poo joke has to contain a joke as well as poo.

This is on my mind at the moment partly because my latest book Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers, contains a poo joke. In fact, if I can say this without being misunderstood, it contains a running poo joke.

And, actually, it might appear to the casual reader that the joke is simply about the repetition of the word 'poo'. But I'd like to think it's a bit cleverer than that. The first time the joke appears, one of the badgers - the villains of the piece - has defaced a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, writing the words 'And then she did a poo' at the end of a paragraph. So for the young reader, there are two taboos being pushed against here: the 'toilet talk' taboo, and the prohibition against writing in books. The scene continues with some of the other badgers getting very silly and giggly about this piece of vandalism, and another getting cross about it even though he secretly thinks it's a bit funny as well - so now the joke is not about the word 'poo' itself, but about how people react to it.

As the story progresses, the badgers get hold of a copy of Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers itself, and discover that by - among other things - writing in the book, they can change things to their advantage. But one of them doesn't quite get what's going on, and keeps suggesting that they write 'And then she did a poo'. So now the joke is about comprehension, and incongruity, and context, and focusing on the trivial at the expense of the bigger picture.

Yes, all right, and it says 'poo' as well.

But - seriously - writing humour isn't the piece of cake it's sometimes seen as. And that goes for writing poo jokes as much as any other kind.


Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickersillustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is the latest in John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series.

His other new books in 2016 will include the sixth Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face title, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Wychwood Festival in early June.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Guilt and Inspiration - John Dougherty

Guilt, it's inbuilt, and I'm in it right up to the hilt
If I'm working day and night, then I pay the bills all right
But I don't have time to write the things I want to write
Which is never what I'm working on right now
-from The Writer's Anthem by Jo Cotterill

I spend a lot of time feeling guilty. 

There are all kinds of reasons for this, not least that when I was a kid my family was dysfunctional and my school wasn't much better; and it's always easier to tell a four-year old that he's wrong or stupid or naughty than to admit your own mistakes and try to correct them. And one of the things I feel guilty about is that, whatever I'm doing, I should be doing something else. If I'm answering emails or doing other admin, I should be spending time with the kids. If I'm spending time with the kids, I should be doing housework. If I'm doing housework, I should be writing. If I'm writing, I should be answering emails...

You get the picture. And as my lovely friend Jo's wonderful Writer's Anthem - one of the songs, incidentally, that we perform together, along with Helen and Paul Stickland, in our author band First Draft - makes clear, guilt is very bad for the writer. Not least, it's very unhelpful when you're seeking inspiration. The more I feel I ought to be starting on a new idea, the less likely I am to find one  - however much I wrack my brains.

And then something happens that makes you want to write, or inspires you in a quite unexpected way. Something like that happened this week. I've been wrestling with a few ideas for a new story, unable to settle on one, and feeling like a bit of a fraud - after all, what is a writer who isn't writing?

And then, a couple of evenings ago, I was helping my son with his GCSE revision and we read together a poem called 3AM Feed, by Steven Blyth. It's a lovely piece about a father feeding his baby in the night. We read it a couple of times, and discussed it, and, well, I found myself getting quite emotional. This almost-man, this 15-year old pointing out the cyclical structure of the poem and analysing the poet's use of imagery, had been my baby once. I'd warmed his milk, held him in the crook of my arm, listened to him sucking, just as the poem describes. And those times are gone forever; I'll never have them back.

I think I was still feeling emotional the next morning when, before settling down to work, I started browsing the web. Of course, I felt guilty about it - I should have been writing - but, still, I browsed. And that morning, link after link pointed me towards articles about the Hillsborough case.

One particular article, by David Conn in The Guardian, grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.  It takes apart the lies that were told, tells how the innocent were blamed by the guilty for the deaths and how the powerful protected one another. And suddenly, for the first time in several days - if not weeks - I found myself with something to say. I wanted to write. It wasn't what I "should" have been working on, but I didn't care. 

By the time I sat down at my desk, a poem had begun to form in my head, and with very little teasing out it took shape on the page. And then I wanted to share it with other people; so I created a new page on my website for grown-up writing, videoed me reading it, and posted it there.

It wasn't what I "should" have been writing, but it was what I needed to write. And sometimes, that's more important.

 The latest in John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers, published May 5th.

His other new books in 2016 will include the sixth Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face title, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

First Draft will next be performing at the Wychwood Festival in early June.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Tommy v Cancer - John Dougherty

I'm not going to post much today. Instead, I'm going to point you towards another blog.

As some of you will know, children's author Tommy Donbavand has recently been diagnosed with cancer. I've never met Tommy, though I have emailed him a few times. My impression from those emails - and his reputation among those I know who have met him - is that he's a lovely guy, one of the best.

And certainly, he's facing up to his current condition with an extraordinarily courageous openness. So this month, instead of reading any more from me, I'd like you to visit his Tommy v. Cancer blog, and offer him your support.


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP.

His new books in 2016 will include the next two Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face titles, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Boycott or not? - John Dougherty

Hanging out in one of the hotel bars
Some of you may have read about the Think Twice campaign, asking authors to boycott the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, which starts this week. The campaign's objections are to the festival sponsor, Emirates Airline, which is owned by the government of the UAE, a government with a less than enviable record on human rights.

Now, before weighing into the debate, I guess I should declare an interest of sorts. I went to the festival last year, and had a great time.   The organisers treated us tremendously well; the other authors were fantastic company; and all in all, it was as good as a holiday. So - as per the photographic illustrations to this piece - I have some very good memories of and feelings about the festival which may well compromise my objectivity.

Meeting a hawk in the desert
I should also say that I've got no objection to a decent boycott. I haven't knowingly bought a Nestlé product in years, probably decades.

Young Bond author Steve Cole on a camel
 But my feelings about Think Twice's proposed boycott sway between undecided and uneasy, and I'm not entirely sure why. In part, at least, I think it's the idea of targeting a festival solely on the grounds of its sponsorship that troubles me.

Leaping about in the desert with Steve
& photographer Lou Abercrombie
(there with her husband,
 YA author Joe)
The thing is, there are a number of festivals whose sponsors I have serious issues with. There's the Times & Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, a festival I'm proud to have spoken at more than once, but whose main sponsor is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a man who I believe has done immense damage to political discourse in this country and who holds disproportionate influence in the corridors of power. Or the Hay Festival, sponsored by the Telegraph, whose owners are allegedly no friends of democracy.

Now, if Murdoch or the Barclays tried to censor the festivals which which they're respectively associated, I think that would almost certainly be grounds for a boycott. As far as I know, they haven't. But as far as I know, there is no reason to believe that either Emirates Airline or the government of the UAE have tried to influence festival policy, let alone impose censorship.

Lunching with Steve & illustrator
extraordinaire David Tazzymen
I really don't want to downgrade the importance of the human rights argument. But Think Twice isn't calling for a boycott of every festival held in a territory with a poor human rights record; only this one. So I suppose my question is this: should the nature of their chief sponsor mean that Emirates Airline Festival of Literature should be held responsible for the UAE government's human rights record? 

I'm not sure it should. The organisers are not connected with the government; they're simply book enthusiasts who have worked hard to get a literature festival off the ground, and who have sought sponsorship from a local company with a lot of money. And I'm not sure it seems fair to try to close down their festival as a way of protesting against the sponsor. If the boycott is successful, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be no more. Emirates Airline, and the UAE government, will continue exactly as before.

What do you think?


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP.

His new books in 2016 will include the next two Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face titles, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

Friday, 5 February 2016

National Storytelling Week and Speaking up for Libraries Savita Kalhan

This week, from 30th January until 6th February, is National Storytelling week. It was founded by the Society of Storytelling and has been running for the sixteen years now. Its aim is to promote the centuries old tradition of storytelling in communities across the UK.

Storytelling is an art that began before people could write. It's where myths and legends, folklore and fairy tales find their roots in every civilisation across the world. Then came the written word, books and translations of stories from other parts of the world, some of which became incorporated into the cultures and history of other lands and made their own.

As writers we make up stories. We think them up, write them, rewrite them, polish them, and then have them read, and eventually they may even get published. It's a long hard road. The oral storytelling tradition is very different. A story I make up on the spot to tell my child or nephews and nieces is spontaneous. Stories will inevitably adapt and change to fit the audience, and the ability of storytellers to do that with ease and assurance is an art.

Moving on from the spoken word to the written word and books, which I believe everyone should have access to, where best to have free and easy access to the written word but in your local library? Tomorrow, the 6th of February, is National Libraries Day. Like many writers have also said, I too would not be a writer if there had not been a local library in my town. The library offered books that I could borrow for free, there was advice and guidance on books from qualified librarians, there was somewhere to sit and do my homework, and it offered me a safe haven too.

Anne Cleeves, writer of TV series Vera and Shetland, has been named National Libraries Day ambassador. She says of libraries that, “They’re magic places. And we need them for democracy – there should be equal access to books, information and facts for everybody.”

Children’s authors have spoken up. Cathy Cassidy has said, "Without libraries, I would never have had access to books as a child, would never had stood a chance of following my dreams. Now our public libraries are being closed all around us; it’s a national scandal, and we must stand together against these closures, for the sake of our children and the future of our country."

 Philip Ardagh has called on book lovers to, "speak up for libraries before there’s nothing left to shout about."

John Dougherty says, "If we want a society that is literate, cultured, educated and compassionate, then a well-funded, professionally-staffed public library service is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And the destruction of service that our government is allowing is quite simply immoral."

Almost four hundred and fifty libraries have closed since 2010. Lots more are facing closure. Under various new proposals, some libraries, the ones that have not already been shut down or are facing the axe, will only be able to offer very limited services, limited opening hours, and some 'will not allow any under 16 years old in unless they are accompanied by an adult'!

I know for a fact lots of libraries are full of kids after school, including my local library, Finchley Church End. Kids are doing their homework, studying, or reading books. Some of them come to my teen reading group on a Monday. The only parents that are accompanying children are the parents of young children, not teenagers. This is set to change in many libraries.

Follow this link to read about what Biblioteca, the company who have thought up 'Open+', a plan devised to apparently keep more libraries open. Libraries will much more high tech with gates and security cameras, entry by card and pin, no staff (or minimal staff and volunteers...) and teenagers will have no access to a library unless they are accompanied by an adult, and that is just SO WRONG! Did I shout that loud enough? Read more about the Open+ plan HERE.

There has to be a better way.

We all appreciate the value of libraries, how important they are, why they're important, and what they've meant to us. I've blogged about what they've meant to me many times, and I will continue to add my voice to those campaigning for libraries. So if you haven't already signed the petition, please sign it by following the link here -

There is a Speak up for Libraries lobby on Parliament on 9th February if you're in London. Follow this link for more details -

Savita on Twitter
Savita's Face Book page

Friday, 29 January 2016

Resolving to write - John Dougherty

The end of January is an odd time to talk about New Year’s Resolutions, isn’t it? By now most lie, forgotten, where they’ve fallen behind the sofa or been carelessly dropped on a road that’s paved with good intentions. And the rest have mostly been assimilated into everyday behaviour and no longer draw attention to themselves.
But actually, it feels to me like a good time to review, and since one of my resolutions was a writerly one, I thought I’d share that review with you.
The last few years haven’t been easy for me in many ways, and one of the difficult things has been simply finding time to focus on my work. What with all the admin of self-employment, the duties of parenthood, and - to be frank - the all-too frequent struggles with depression, there’ve been too many days and weeks when I haven’t felt like a writer; when I’ve got no writing done at all or have only managed a little, forced out at pen-point.
This couldn’t continue; so I decided that 2016 was going to be the year when I remembered that I really am a writer. And I decided that the best way to do that was to write. Every day. Away with the excuses; gone are the days and weeks of writing nothing because other things get in the way.
Of course, some days - for whatever reason - it really isn’t possible to do much; but I promised myself that even if all I could manage was a sentence, I would write that sentence. Proper writing, mind you - shopping lists don’t count. Work that fed into my writing would, though, such as spending the morning - as I did recently - watching Julius Caesar on DVD and making notes, prior to rewriting it for a reading scheme.
So - how’s it going? Really pretty good, actually. Days 1 & 2 of 2016 were ‘not much done’ days; they fell on a weekend when I had the kids, and of course there was all that recovering-from-New-Year’s-Eve business as well. So I only managed a sentence on day one, and a paragraph on day two. 
Then came January 3rd - the day when the kids went back to school, and writing started in earnest. Normally, the first proper writing day back after a break is difficult. Getting focused is tough. If I’m lucky, I might manage 500 words of the work-in-progress, but 250 wouldn’t be unusual.
Not this time. This time I managed 3,800. Before 2.00pm. Enough to get me to the end of the first draft I’d been working on before Christmas got in the way.
Not every day’s been like that, of course; in fact, that’s my highest word-count of the year. It may in fact be my highest word-count of all time, in a single day. But every day on which I’ve written - which is every day in the last 29 - I’ve felt like a writer. It’s changed my view of myself, and my work, and has put all those distractions into sharp relief. And I wish I’d thought of it years ago.
How are your writerly resolutions working out?


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP.

His new books in 2016 will include the next two Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face titles, his first poetry collection - Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones and published by Otter-Barry Books  - and several readers for schools.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A view from the other side - John Dougherty

The lovely Jo Cotterill
Whoops! It's the 29th and I should have posted first thing this morning!!! Sorry. My life is chaotic at the best of times; at the moment I'm as scatty as anything.

It's at times like this I'm glad I have friends who are more organised and together than I am. And one of the very best of those is the lovely Jo Cotterill, whose powers of togetherness quite frankly astonish me at times.

One of the reasons I'm particularly glad of this right now is that some months ago Jo and I were invited to be guest programmers for the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, or ChipLitFest as it's affectionately known. It's been an interesting process, largely involving me going, "Er... where are we on things again?" and Jo sighing and opening her folder and telling me exactly where we are on things and what additional things we need to be doing.

But one of the most interesting aspects of the whole things has been seeing the publishing industry from a different angle. I'd always imagined the process of booking an author for a literary festival to be something like this:

LITERARY FESTIVAL BOOKING PERSON: Hello! We'd like to book some authors for our literary festival, please!
PUBLICITY PERSON AT PUBLISHING HOUSE: Certainly! Here is a long list of suitable authors, none of whom is John Dougherty!
LFBP: Thanks!

Instead of which, it's been more like this:
LFBP [in this case, me or Jo]: Hello! We'd like to book some authors for our literary festival, please!
Jo & I talk about specific authors we might like to book>
LFBP: Hello! Further to our last email, we've decided we'd like to invite the fabulous Author X to our festival. Are they free?

LFBP: Er... Hello! Did you get our email about Author X?
PPAPH: Oh - sorry. The person who deals with Author X was on holiday. They're back now. I'm sure they'll be in touch soon.
LFBP: Oh, good.

PPAPH: Sorry! Been busy. I'll ask Author X if she's free.

LFBP 1: You know, I do have Author X's email address...
LFBP 2: Do you want to just contact her? We have tried the proper channels...

LFBP: Hello! Has PPAPH asked you about  appearing at our festival?
AUTHOR X: Er... no.
LFBP: Well, would you like to?
AX: Yes! Yes, oh god, yes!!!

I'm not sure why this is, but I suspect in part it's got to do with publishing houses publishing more books with fewer staff. Anyway, if there's a lesson in here, it's probably that more than ever, professional writers need to take as much responsibility as they can for their own promotion. But also, perhaps, that writers and publicists both need to work together and keep channels of communication open. Oh, and that there may be established ways of doing things in the industry, but there are no 'right' ways.

Photo by Jemima Cotterill
 PS Jo and I were interviewed for the ChipLitFest website by the festival's own junior reporter, the fabulous Pheebs. You can read the interview here.


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP - who will also be publishing Jo Cotterill's & Cathy Brett's Electrigirl in the spring.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Turn on, tune in...? - John Dougherty

I forgot my phone the other day.

I hadn't gone far when I realised I'd left it in the kitchen, still plugged in to the charger; and I almost turned back to the house to get it. But then I thought, Well, I'm only going to be gone for a short while. It's not very likely that anyone's going to need to get in touch with me before I get back.

So I carried on into town. And although I wasn't without my phone for long, I noticed a couple of interesting things.

The first was how many times I found myself about to reach for it. It's become habitual for me - as I suspect for many of us - when I have a spare moment, to check my emails or my Twitter feed; to see if anyone's been trying to contact me. And even though my phone wasn't in my pocket, still something kept triggering that little internal prompt - I'll just look at my phone.

The second thing I noticed was how, as that prompt to check the screen was immediately followed each time by the realisation that I couldn't, the pattern of my thoughts began to change - and change in a way that felt oddly familiar. Without the constant interruption of the internet, my thoughts began to flow again.

The thing is, the ability to muse idly is pretty important for a writer, and it was disturbing to realise how little of it I've been doing lately. But the ability to just pause for a second and check my electronic communications had become a constant interruption to that stream of daydreaming, the little river of ideas that should run constantly in the background and into which we should be able to dip whenever our creativity becomes thirsty.

I'm making an effort now to diminish that habit - to remember that just because I can check the internet, doesn't mean I must. It'll still be there later. And as a result, I'm finding myself making contact with a way of being that I'd almost forgotten about.

The writer Jonathan Stroud has recently launched a campaign aimed at giving children Freedom to Think. Take a look; it's a very simple yet hugely important idea, and I'm entirely in favour of it. But the freedom to think - and the time and space in which to do it - is something that adults need, too. We need to allow ourselves to be bored.


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP.