Writing

Introducing…Tekkers

Last week I released my new book, Tekkers. It’s the story of 13-year-old Zak, an aspiring young footballer who uploads a video of his skills to YouTube and becomes an overnight sensation.

The book has been a few years in the making. Back in 2017, while working as a social media manager, I was an at event to promote my client’s latest football boots. As part of the night’s running order, I was asked to create some content with a young football influencer. This involved asking the influencer to show off some of their skills while wearing the product, then making sure they said a piece to camera. The influencer was great: enthusiastic, humble and well supported by his parents.

But it got me thinking. Not everybody who goes viral has such a support network to keep their feet on the ground. There are countless examples of children who are thrust into the limelight and struggle to cope. Pressures pop up that never existed before. Especially in social media. Algorithms must be met. Followings must be grown. Merchandise must be sold.

I began to imagine what could happen to the influencer without such guidance. After all, when I visit schools and hear about the pupils’ aspirations, they often involve social media. So what would happen, for example, when agents start to swarm? When the trolls emerge? When social media gets in the way of real life?

The result is Tekkers, published by Polaris. It’s described as ‘an amusing and entertaining story about the power of social media with the core message that followers are great, but friends are even better’.

You can order a signed copy direct from me by clicking here. Or you can buy it from any one of the usual outlets.

Writing

A Question

You don’t ask you don’t get: it’s an ideal that drives both football and writing. Questions come as a form of currency. The more you ask, the more opportunities tend to come your way.

And sometimes those opportunities are better than you ever could have imagined.

Together with Paul Watson I’ve been running an event called Great Football Adventures. We invite people who’ve had interesting experiences of football abroad to come and give talks in London. When the feedback for our first events was good, the logical next step was to create a book. 

It wasn’t as easy as we thought. Speakers became hard to tie down. People stopped replying. After six months we had just a handful of chapters. 

And so I started to chase new opportunities. I contacted more speakers, learned new stories and revisited older ones. One of those was In the Hands of the Gods. A favourite film of mine growing up, the documentary features five football freestylers who attempt to busk their way from the UK to Argentina to meet Diego Maradona.

I browsed various websites and eventually managed to contact all five. Just one replied.

That one was Paul Wood.

I arranged a time and a date then set about booking a meeting room at work for ‘an important client call.’ I suppose it was half right.

We spoke for an hour. Paul – or Woody, as he liked to be called – was a great speaker and gave me plenty of content. He even passed me on the details of others he knew who could be part of the book. 

A few days later I’d written the first draft of his chapter. I sent it over and Woody called back later that day. He loved the chapter and spoke through a few necessary changes. ‘And by the way,’ he finished. ‘I like what you’ve done. I’ve got a project that might interest you.’

Woody, it turned out, wasn’t just a football freestyler. In fact, that was in the past. Now he was one of the world’s biggest content creators. Along with his partner Kleiny (and manager Darryl), @WoodyandKleiny had more than 10,000,000 followers across their social channels. And now they wanted to write their first book.

At the time I was working in an office job as a social media manager. I knew YouTubers and had worked with many. But I didn’t really know YouTube. The craze had passed me by. I’d seen the impact it had on people up and down the country, the potential of what they did, the power they held in their hands. 

I couldn’t have been more excited.

I followed all of @WoodyandKleiny’s channels. I watched their pranks, gave them likes, showed my mates. Then we met in person.

We clicked straight away. I brought along my business partner in Floodlit Dreams, Ian Ridley, and we outlined the book process over a dinner at Zizzi’s. They had plenty of options, we told them. We’d be happy to help them get a literary agent and pursue their project with a big publisher. Or they could go with Floodlit Dreams. Ian outlined the pros and cons with each option then left me alone with Woody and Darryl, Kleiny being unable to attend due to illness. 

We spoke for a couple more hours and by the time I got the last train home to London I was filled with positivity. 

Another meeting was arranged. They wanted me to help them write their book. They wanted that book to be published with Floodlit Dreams.

Over the next few months I got to know Woody, Kleiny and Darryl well. I saw parallels in their experiences with mine as I attempt to turn a passion into a livelihood and become a full-time author. So inspirational did I find their journey that I even took redundancy to focus fully on writing. 

We set about into a routine: they’d pick me up from the station, take me for dinner, I’d get out my dictaphone and then we’d talk late into the night. They’d always pay for my Uber home. 

It took eight full sessions to get enough content. Then the back and forth really started. There were changes to make, designs to approve, covers to sort. Writing ended up being the easiest part of the process. 

That process is now almost complete. The Social Struggle: How We Took Over the Internet is available to pre-order. It’s been an incredible journey with three people I now consider to be friends, rather than collaborators. Their story inspires me and I hope it will inspire readers all over the world. 

And it all came about from a question.

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Two Months In… The Transition to Freelance

On the first day of the rest of my life I played golf. I thought it would make a statement, a symbolic act of how I’d spend my life from now on. My girlfriend laughed.

Later that week I returned home sunburnt after an afternoon spent watching county cricket at Lords. Again, she laughed, but a little less. There was also a hint of annoyance in there.

Then, the moment any goodwill deserted me. She decided to work from home one morning, only to find that her freelance boyfriend was still in bed at 10.30.

Since then, I’ve had to do a lot more work around the house. No matter how often I tell her I need to read in bed for research, her sympathy has remained at an all time low. 

In many ways, being freelance feels like being back at university. For a few hours each week I have to leave the house to go and work, then for the rest of the time I’m left to my own devices. 

Much of my time is structured around sport. It’s the main constant in my life – whether that’s cricket matches, futsal training or gym sessions. 

More of my time is spent with mates. Without full time work, I no longer feel guilty about skipping an evening of writing in favour of a social event.

If anything, I’m now writing less. Previously I’d managed to get myself into a routine of working my office job from 9-6 (though rarely making it in for 9), writing for an hour at lunch, then juggling the four different manuscripts I was working on all evening until the early hours. I learnt to survive on five or six hours of sleep a night.

It didn’t take long for my body to adapt once more to needing my university staple of nine hours a night. I feel much healthier for it: less run down, more proactive, more free. The extra exercise helps. Every day I’m now able to run, go to the gym or practise yoga – luxuries I could rarely afford in full time work. 

There are problems with relying on freelance writing. Mainly it’s that the money is so irregular. An advance comes in that needs to last for months. An article is commissioned and then nothing else comes up. Schools cancel visits. So to lessen the burden, I’ve taken on bits of work in other areas.

Currently, I’m committed to seven hours of coaching and half a day of social media management a week. That pretty much covers my rent, and the rest of my time is then split between writing and helping to grow Floodlit Dreams. 

The benefit of having few regular commitments is being able to say yes to opportunities at short notice. Lots of cool stuff has come up, but much of that cool stuff has failed to materialise. There’s even been a chance to have another crack at professional football in a foreign country. I think my girlfriend is warming to the idea…

With the money that I’ve invoiced for so far, I can certainly say that going freelance has been successful. The only trouble is that money invoiced doesn’t necessarily equal money paid. I’m guessing that a lot of my time this year is going to be spent chasing up unpaid work.

As it stands, however, I’ll be able to give freelancing a go for a second year. There are things I miss about working full time. I miss working with mates. Miss absorbing others’ creativity. Miss being inspired by colleagues and their work. Miss hearing about their successes and all of the other little things that make up their lives.

But every time I think back to the social side of the office, I’m reminded of the routine, the same tube journey at the same time, the same office politics, the same desk every day, the same client relationship.

Though there are plenty of things I miss, there aren’t enough of them to make me want to go racing back. 

I hope this new life really is the rest of my life. All I need now is a midweek golf partner…

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What I’ve Learnt From Losing

In more optimistic times

Season 2018/19 will be remembered for one thing: it’s the first year in my life where the team I’ve played for has finished bottom of the league.

As soon as the season started, we knew we were up against it. Having relocated to Southend, we had a new coach, a new set-up and a whole new group of players, with just a handful left over from the previous season. There were talented individuals, but too few of us were playing collectively.

In truth, we never really adapted.

There were some bruising early defeats. We were losing heavily against teams we should have been competing with, perhaps even beating.

Our new coach left in November, followed by a period of instability. Players followed him out of the door. The club was being pulled in different directions. 

We were a mess.

When you lose, you learn the true character of people. Some moved on naturally. Others who weren’t up for the fight left. And those who stayed showed themselves to have real character. They were the ones still happy to train, even with six players and no coach. The ones happy to travel to games with kit missing (thanks to Manchester for lending us spares), no club staff and no manager. Some of them happy to sit on the bench all game just to join up with the squad and keep team spirit high. One of them even happy to miss out on playing the start of a game while my parents rushed to the nearest shopping centre to buy an extra pair of match socks.

Newcastle away: a very long way

As the months went by we still weren’t playing fully as a collective. But off the court the team was more of a collective than ever before. 

It ended up being one of my most enjoyable seasons to date.

That’s not to say I like losing. I hate losing. But when you’re losing with those who give everything, who show their desire to make the best of a bad situation, then every small victory is magnified.

We weren’t the worst team in the league. We have many top players. But sometimes things just don’t work out. When you get into a losing streak it’s hard to get out of it. A chance will come along in a game and you believe it may be the only one. You stop taking risks. You become too safe, too scared to concede. Then, when you do concede first, it feels like a mountain to overcome. When you score first you wonder how long it will last.

The cycle repeats itself. 

All season we lacked a goalscorer. With that extra streak of ruthlessness, we’d have done okay – probably mid-table.

But that’s another thing about losing. Every game becomes a ‘what if?’ What if we’d have made the most of our early dominance? What if we’d pressed our opponents from the start? What if we’d scored any one of the five penalties missed during the game (cheers Cambridge). 

The ‘what ifs’ can’t get on top of you. Losing teaches you to move on, to look past what has happened and focus on what’s to come.

Attention now turns to 2019/20. I don’t want to suffer another season of defeat. I won’t suffer another season of defeat. But I don’t for one second regret the season I’ve just had.

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Making a Passion a Job

I never aspired to be a social media manager. It’s just something that I fell into. But once you’re in that cycle of relying on a job, it’s hard to break out of it – especially when it takes you five years of writing to earn what you make in a month as a social media manager.


A few years ago I started exploring the possibility of cutting back on work to focus more on my passion. At the time I was working with a former footballer on their book, and felt that if I made the proposal compelling enough I’d be able to at least take a sabbatical from work.


The project fell through. An offer was made but quashed by the company’s lawyer, who feared of libel. It was frustrating, but my desire to try and make it as a writer was unaffected. I’d just need to find a new project.

I took a new job. It was still working in social media – for a less interesting client – but the increased salary on offer would allow me to save up more money to give writing a go in the near future.


Then Brexit happened, and that near future became a lot closer. The company that paid my salary was on the news every five minutes warning of how catastrophic a no deal Brexit would be. Some dismissed their claims as ‘Project Fear’. It was anything but. Rumours of redundancies started spreading around the office.


All the while I’d been putting the ingredients in place to commit fully writing. I published a children’s book to allow me to give workshops in primary schools. I found an agent to get me talks. I networked, met new people. And by chance I came into contact with two of the biggest YouTubers in the world.


Listening to their story inspired me. They’d poured everything into their videos over a four year period and made no more than £2,000. Then they hit a wave and blew up.


As I heard more, I began to see further parallels in our journeys.

I had to give writing a go.


The next week, one of my colleagues quit her job. ‘What would I do if money wasn’t an object,’ she said. ‘Not this. I’m quitting to try and make it as a creative.’


Okay. I really had to give writing a go.


I planned to give myself another twelve months in my job. Save a bit more money. Network a bit more, get some more school visits in place.


Then the redundancies were announced. I was placed into the redundancy pool. My advertising agency was getting a much reduced fee from our affected client and actions had to be taken. My job was to be no more. Everything accelerated. 


If I don’t commit to writing now, I never will.

It ended up happening sooner than planned, and I don’t necessarily have enough in place to break even over the next twelve months, but I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come.

I’m still going to work in social media. I have some freelance projects lined up to ensure I at least make enough money to eat. Most importantly though, I’ll have more freedom to write. There’s a children’s book currently being considered by publishers, a ghostwritten project for a YouTuber, a football book due to be announced in the coming weeks, and not only that. My project with the two YouTubers who inspired me so much, who poured everything into their passion for four years for peanuts, is due out this autumn.

Let’s see what happens…

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How to Fix Futsal

Over the last 10 years, futsal in this country has improved massively. Clubs have improved, the quality has improved, and the national team has also improved. 

But this season, for the first time, the league hasn’t improved. Helvecia pretty much won it in November and now all there is to play for is relegation. Fortunately, the FA has recognised this and is set to restructure everything this coming Friday. 

There are plenty of rumours flying about. I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen, but as a player I would like to see changes in a number of areas.

First of all, the league itself. I was a massive advocate of having one national Super League. I was also a massive advocate of getting rid of the play-offs and just having one winner. In the 2016/17 season with Baku, when the play-offs were still running, we were able to pretty much cruise through the season until March, having one training session a week and taking matches lightly in the knowledge that we only needed to finish in the top four of the South to make the play-offs. That season we reached the play-off final, and had I not missed a sitter in the last few minutes we could well have taken Helvecia to extra time – and maybe even won the league. That’s not right. You shouldn’t be able to cruise until March and still be crowned champion.

The alternative, though, is what we’re currently seeing. As far as I’m now concerned, it’s better to potentially have a less deserving winner and keep an element of competitiveness. 

Having one national Super League is also a massive commitment for players – especially when the vast majority are amateur. Leaving your house at 6am for an away trip to Newcastle and getting home at 11pm, then getting up for work the next day, isn’t easy. That’s just one reason why the quality of the top league has gone down since being made national (and as a player for the league’s bottom team, I’ve got to hold my hands up!). 

Of the teams currently playing in Division One, at least five could easily compete in the Super League. Whether this is because their players don’t fancy the travelling, I don’t know, but I would be keen to see the league split into North and South regions once again. One option could then be for the top four teams in each league to form their own mini league for the final round of fixtures, playing against each other to determine who wins overall. 

There has been a lot of talk about central venues. I’m not necessarily against central venues, but I don’t want to be visiting the same place every single week to play a game. One of the best things about the league in its current format is playing against teams like Salisbury and York who provide a decent matchday experience with dedicated fans.

I’d like to see the league designating community hubs rather than one central venue. There could then be one set of showpiece games each weekend. Say the FA booked York’s hall for the entire day, then played games at 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm featuring local clubs such as York, Bolton and Manchester Dev, plus women’s teams, so that the entire futsal community is represented. The next weekend the showpiece could take place at the Copperbox. At each showpiece weekend, there’ll be a film crew to stream games through the FA’s social media pages. At the moment, regularity is a big issue. Clubs can go weeks without playing at home and kick-off times often vary, making it hard to build connection with fans. Having such a set-up would ensure that every weekend fans all over the world can log onto social media and know that they can watch a top league futsal match at the same time.

Attracting fans through social media will therefore fall on the FA, while attracting fans through community work will continue to be the clubs’ responsibility. The loss of The Daily Futsal is one of the biggest steps backwards futsal has taken in this country. To move forward once more, the FA has to embrace the power of social media and its ability to bring new fans to the sport.

The six English players rule, along with proper youth coaching, has helped to develop the most promising young generation of futsal players this country has seen. It’s also seen some clubs stockpile English talent, making it harder for others to recruit players. 

Clubs should be incentivised to play English players. After all, the role of the league should be to develop players for the national team. However, I’m not sure clubs should be made to play more than six English players in a matchday squad. Instead, the FA could incentivise clubs to include more English players by offering free coaching courses or allocating funding to those who collaborate. To further increase development opportunities for young English players, the FA could abolish the transfer deadline for English players under the age of 23. As clubs inevitably suffer injuries and withdrawals toward the end of each season, opportunities will come up for those who show potential. 

Finally, I’d like to see the FA transform the FA Cup. There should be more opportunities for clubs outside the system – and for lower league clubs – to progress to play Super League teams. We shouldn’t start in the Last 16, with just four teams from outside the Super League battling to become champions. 

Whatever happens on Friday, the fact that the FA is willing to shake things up is a big positive. Like everyone else, I’m intrigued to see what is going to happen.

Writing

How to Get Published

They say that everyone has a book in them. And with the way that publishing has changed, it’s becoming ever easier for everyone to get that book into print.

But it isn’t as easy as putting pen to paper and then selling books by the millions. Publishing houses receive hundreds of submissions a day. Competition is fierce. So to stand out from the crowd, you first need to create an engaging proposal.

Proposal
A proposal is essentially a summary of your idea, allowing a publisher to make a quick decision on whether your book is for them. This should include an elevator pitch, chapter breakdown, author bio, target audience and a sample of writing. It’s also helpful to include similar titles that have been published. To do this, look on Amazon and Waterstones or ask at your local bookshop and library. When looking, it’s also handy to see who has published the similar titles, as these publishing houses may well be interested in your own book.

You can find an example of a proposal I’ve previously submitted here: https://tinyurl.com/ybbwjq7h

It’s absolutely essential that any proposal is formatted correctly and free of any spelling or grammar mistakes. With publishing houses inundated with submissions, any error – no matter how small – can be enough to see your submission tossed to the side. To try and prevent this, it’s recommended that any submission is checked over with friends or family, who often provide useful feedback. Contacting other authors and running your ideas by them is also encouraged. Even though you’re essentially going to be competing against them for sales, I’ve found authors often go out of their way to help others.

Once you’ve written your proposal and are happy it shows your story in the best possible light, you need to decide how to publish your book. Broadly speaking, there are four options: mainstream, independent, crowdfunding, self-publishing.

Mainstream
There’s a well-known saying that ‘a week is along time in football.’ Well, I’ve found that a year is a short time in publishing. If you decide to pursue a mainstream publisher, expect long turnaround times. Before your proposal even reaches a mainstream publisher, however, it has to be vetted by a literary agent. 

How do you get a literary agent? Well, it helps if you know someone. Publishing is quite old school in that connections can get you a very long way. But not everyone has a literary agent on speed dial. If you need a literary agent, the best thing to do is search for one online. When you’re searching through literary agencies, make sure that they’re accepting submissions in your genre. There’s no point in sending a book on Cuban history to an agent looking for science fiction. 

Make a list of numerous agents. The reality is that even if you’ve written the next Harry Potter, most of them won’t reply. The greater the number of suitable agents you contact, the more likely your chance of success.

Once a literary agent likes your proposal, they’ll probably suggest a few changes. Remember, they know what publishers are most likely to want, so their advice is important. You can’t be too protective of your work.

A literary agent then takes your proposal to mainstream publishing houses. If any editors at these publishers like it, they’ll ask to meet you. This will allow them to find out a bit more about you and get a feel for a working relationship. 

After this meeting, the editor takes the proposal to an acquisition meeting where the sales and marketing teams predict the likely success of the book, whether it’s commercially viable and if so how much to offer as an advance payment. 

For the lucky few who get chosen, this long process is only the beginning of a much longer process. Publishing with a mainstream publisher will give you access to excellent editors and designers, allow your work to be stocked in bookshops up and down the country, help you develop links within the industry and pay you an advance upfront. However, you have less ownership over the work and the royalties are small. Many authors never receive payment beyond the advance. 

Independent
Independent publishers are small companies that produce books. My new venture, Floodlit Dreams, is one such company. If a literary agent doesn’t receive an offer from a mainstream publisher, they’ll often then send the proposal to independent publishers. 

However, you don’t always need a literary agent to be published by an independent company. Most will accept a proposal directly from an author. Though a literary agent provides advice, simplifies the entire publication process and gives your work validation, they do take 15% of any payment. And not everyone can get a literary agent.

Prospective authors should search for independent publishers that publish works similar to their own. After selecting appropriate publishers and submitting their proposal, they should expect a response within eight weeks. It is advisable to contact numerous independent publishers rather than wait for each to reply individually. 

When they do reply, the journey to publication is much quicker then at mainstream publishers. If they like the proposal they’ll request a meeting, and if that goes well then a contract will soon be drawn up.

Expect to be involved in every aspect of publication with an independent publisher. The actual writing side of things is only a small part of creating a book. Ideas on cover design, launch parties and marketing techniques are all welcomed. As such, independent publishers allow much greater ownership over each project and also allocate a greater percentage of royalties to authors. However, advance payments are rare and not all independent publishers can get their authors’ books into shops up and down the country. To sell thousands of books with an independent publisher, authors need to be prepared to work hard at marketing their book, appear at talks and events and chase PR opportunities. The greater share of royalties available means that effort is often well rewarded.

Crowdfunding
Producing a book is a risk. Analysts at publishing houses can obsess over forecasting potential sales, but nobody really knows exactly how well each book will do – and whether it can pay back the money spent on its publication – until it’s actually out in the world. Crowdfunding takes away all of this risk for the publisher. The onus is on pledgers to fork out for the production costs of each book.

Working with a crowdfunder requires an author to think of different ways to incentivise pledgers. Methods include signed copies, first edition hardbacks and even lunches with the author. Though the crowdfunding website provides an audience to see an author’s project, raising the production costs is very much down to the author. Crowdfunding companies usually have multiple projects going on at once and therefore can’t give each individual project much time until it’s funded.

To crowdfund a book therefore requires plenty of energy on behalf of the author. As with independent publishers, proposals can be submitted directly to the crowdfunding companies for their consideration.

Self-publishing
It’s never been easier to self-publish a book. Though some look down on self-publishing and dismiss books as ‘vanity projects’, the reality is that it can be a lucrative business. 

Authors get total ownership over their work, choosing every aspect. Unfortunately, that also means it’s on them to fund each project. This means payment is needed for cover design, formatting, typesetting, editing and marketing. The risk is therefore solely on the author, but once production costs are paid off every sale gives good profit. 

Turnaround times are quick, and choosing to self-publish means that authors can skip the proposal phase and go straight into production.

Authors should be aware that bookshops rarely take self-published works and it therefore lies on the author to promote their own book. However, the ability to have the final say on every aspect and turn each project around quickly is an attraction for some.

In Summary
Writing a book is a fantastic achievement no matter which publishing option you choose. The connections you make and the people you come across can often lead to other interesting projects. And there’s no greater buzz than receiving a positive review from a reader.

Seek advice where you can, do your research and check your work over and over again. 

And if you do have a proposal you’re working on, feel free to ask for our advice at Floodlit Dreams. We’ll be more than happy to provide feedback – and who knows what will come of it…

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Living with Animals: An Inspiration for Writing

My gran isn’t a normal gran. She’s 86 and drives a car boot full of dead chicks around with her. She serves roadkill for Christmas dinner. She’s got an MBE. And she’s nursed thousands of animals back to health over the last 65 years.

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Staying at Gran’s often has its challenges. You see, she runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre from her house, living alongside unwell animals and injured birds. As she’s aged she’s lightened her workload. Where once there were well over 300 animals and birds on her property, now there are fewer than 20.

Most of the animals and birds are wild. They haven’t been domesticated and that’s never part of my gran’s plans. She always intends to return them to the wild once they’re back to full health. The downside to this is that the animals and birds she takes in often behave like wild creatures. There was the badger that stole the vicar’s shoelaces, the squirrel that collected the tops from the milkman’s bottles each morning, the snake that made a habit of escaping. Poor Mrs Bellamy, who used to come and clean the house, was once found shrieking on a stool as the snake slithered around beneath her. She’d been there for hours.

When you live in a house with hundreds of animals and birds, you’re bound to pick up a few tales. My gran has always been a storyteller. She prides herself on speaking to anyone who’ll listen. And in 1972 she decided to put one of her tales to paper.

The Year of the Badger is the true story of Nikki the badger, who arrived on the Burkett doorstep in a terrible state. Nikki was taken in and cared for, developing human habits and a taste for mischief – much to the detriment of the rest of the village.

My gran sent her story out to publishing houses and took up an offer from Macmillan. That gave her the confidence to write even more. To date she’s had well over 100 books published. The Year of the Badger was read far and wide, with the film rights even being snapped up by Disney, resulting in the creation of a Japanese cartoon.

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Ever since I was old enough to pick up a pen, my gran has encouraged me to write. We used to come up with silly stories, stuff like a footballer whose feet grew every time he kicked a ball, eventually becoming so big that he can no longer fit through the door and has to enter his house through the window.

When I turned 16, Gran decided it was time to get my name in print. By then she’d opened her own publishing house, Barney Books, and was writing a book called Hobby. She invited me to ‘edit’ the book and promised it would go down as a joint writing project. I ended up writing about two sentences, but as far as the readers were concerned I’d written half.

Just as Gran predicted, that publication led to more opportunities for me to have my work published.

Last year, Gran told me she would like The Year of the Badger to be updated for a modern audience. After all of the inspiration she has given me over the years, I felt it was the least I could do.

We’re crowdfunding to publish a revised edition of The Year of the Badger through Unbound. It’s been a slow start, but it’s great to work once again on a book with my gran. Together, we’re actively looking for contributors. If you enjoyed reading a very small part of my gran’s story, you can find out more about The Year of the Badger here: https://unbound.com/books/the-year-of-the-badger/.

 

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Playing a (Book) Festival

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve spent the last few years trying to make my name as an author. Though I’ve had four books published, I still very much consider writing to be a side project at best. So when I was invited to talk at my first ever book festival, I jumped at the chance.

Here was my start on the road to becoming a well-known author. That’s what I was convinced of. There was even a small fee involved. Not only would it cover my expenses, it even left me with a bit extra. And it gave me the chance to sell my book to an estimated 1,200 pupils.

Without the luxury of a car, I crammed as many books as I could fit into a bag. 70 copies later I headed to the train station, my arms feeling like they were about to fall off with every step.

The Bowley Bookfest was taking place in Whalley, near Blackburn. Door-to-door it was four hours. After a tube, three trains and a car journey, I arrived at 11pm to a warm welcome and a plate of lasagne from the festival organiser, Victoria Gow. There were two other authors staying overnight, Mimi Thebo and Paul Cookson. They’ve both sold hundreds of thousands of books in their careers. I’ve sold slightly fewer. Still, it was a great chance to learn from two pros, and I made sure to take on board all of the advice they were only too willing to give me.

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I soon found out there’s nothing glamorous about being an author on tour. There’s no tour bus, no groupies, and certainly no luxury accommodation. My room for the night, usually used by scouts, was just as basic as Victoria had warned me. Still, I had a whole room to myself. I even got to choose which of the two bunk beds I could sleep in.

My first session was scheduled for 9:15am. The school I was supposed to be presenting to didn’t show up. Next up I had a meet the author session. Nobody showed up. My pride suitably bruised, I held on for 15 minutes before deciding to head to the main hall to watch the festival’s star name, Chris Riddell, instead.

A crowd of well over 100 was hanging on his every word. An illustrator by trade, Chris drew as he spoke, a projector showing his every move. There was never a time when fewer than 20 hands were raised in the hope of being able to ask a question. As I watched on I realised that this was the standard I had to get to. He was a class act.

But I could only stay for ten minutes, because out of the corner of my eye I could see people – actual people – making their way to my area. Finally, my first group had arrived! I scuttled after them. ‘Are you Seth?’ their teacher asked with more than a hint of uncertainty. I managed to convince her, and two minutes later I was doing the talk I’d spent the previous evening preparing. A bit on aspirations, a bit on resilience, a bit on Brazil, a bit on writing, a reading from No Final Whistle, a Q&A, then a penalty shoot out to finish. It went well. Not Chris Riddell well, but well enough for nobody to heckle me. I even managed to get my first book sale of the day.

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Then another group showed up. And another. Six of them, back to back. By the end of the day I was shattered yet buzzing at how things had turned out. The pupils had been brilliant, eager and willing. The sessions had gone well. I’d still only sold the one book but that didn’t matter too much. There was a book sale going on in the main hall where the majority of purchases would be taking place.

I soon received my next reality check. I’d sold another seven books in the main hall. Seven. To 1,200 pupils and a fair few teachers. In contrast, Chris Riddell had at least 100 people queuing to get their books signed. After the strength of his talk, I don’t blame them.

Another four hour journey home – this time carrying a mere 62 books in my bag – took my total effort to eight hours of travelling time to sell eight books. Had it been worth it?

Absolutely.

The whole experience proved invaluable. I was able to learn from, and network with, some of the industry’s top writers. I met hundreds of keen pupils and tens of inspiring teachers. And, most importantly, it helped get my name out there.

In the days after the festival, I received two bookings from schools. I had contact from enthusiastic readers. The power of appearing at physical events became clear. It’s not about the sales. It’s always nice to sell books, but that’s not important. Making connections, learning from the best, that’s what is most beneficial for me at this stage.

If I keep on appearing at events, speaking to people and making connections, then maybe one day I’ll look back and laugh at the time I lugged 70 books up to Lancashire and only sold eight. After all, everyone’s got to start somewhere…

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Thank you to Victoria Gow and the We Are Reading team for hosting an excellent event and providing such a warm welcome.

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A New Season Starts

This weekend I’m due to start my tenth season in senior futsal. Over that time I’ve played for Loughborough, London United, and Baku/London City/Southend. And over that time I’ve seen the sport grow massively.

There are often negative comments on social media. Some believe that futsal in England is going backwards. To any who truly believe that to be the case, I invite them to watch any video from 10 years ago and see the difference. The reality is that futsal in England has never been in a better place.

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In 2010, when the only crowd was the one painted on the wall

When I first started out, games were played in empty sports halls against teams that were lumped together from whoever fancied a run-out. A number of games were pointless. The question wasn’t whether we were going to win – it was whether we were going to win by five or ten goals. And this was for a mid-table team.

Now there are no easy games. You can no longer score 20 goals in a home fixture against Hereford, for example. Last season, my team beat Helvecia – arguably the best side in the league – yet lost against both teams that were relegated. If you have an off day in the Super League, you’re going to get punished. Which is exactly how it should be.

I can’t remember ever playing in front of a decent crowd in an away fixture back then. Now you have clubs such as Cambridge, Manchester, Salisbury and York that attract hundreds of fans to games. These clubs in particular have realised that you can’t develop a sport by being a team. You have to be a club.

With every season, more futsal clubs are becoming clubs, rather than teams. Development games take place before first team games, academy players come to watch fixtures, games are streamed online with the help of companies such as The Daily Futsal, and all the time the quality coming in to English futsal gets better. Clubs are raising awareness, which increases participation, which then ensures high quality young players are being developed.

When I started playing, participation amongst English players was low – especially in London. Not many people had heard of the sport, with universities being the starting point for many National League players. Now there are thriving academies up and down the country. The players that places such as ProFutsal, Finta, London Wizards and Bocas are producing will continue to push the overall quality of the league and ensure the sport continues to develop.

We’ve got a tough start to the coming season. We play Helvecia, who are probably favourites for the title. This is another positive change. Ten years ago the top few teams had a few token English players who might get a couple of minutes here or there. Now, with the new 50/50 ruling, all the best teams rely on English talent. And none more so than Helvecia.

We’ve got a number of talented young players who will only get better as the season goes on. With a new name, new coach and largely new squad, it may take some time to adapt. But once we do, I think we’ll surprise a few people.

Let’s see what happens…