Sunday, 8 November 2009

MY VISIT TO MORE HOUSE SCHOOL







On 6 November I ventured down to Surrey to visit More House School. This school can support any boy of average ability, who would benefit from an individualised learning programme but it has particular success with boys who have specific learning difficulties. Many of the children who attend experience variations of Autistic Spectrum Disorders, including ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), Dysphraxia, Dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome. Some also have speech and language problems. I was invited to go and talk to them because of my own teenage troubles coping with Asperger’s and my success as a writer.

The school complex itself is incredible. It is set in an area with plenty of greenery, has lovely wood buildings, a heated outdoor pool, a drama building, a music centre, and impressive live-in apartments.

Some of the children have experienced great difficulty fitting in at a mainstream school being classed as disruptive or difficult to teach. I really didn’t see these traits in the children I had contact with, and this is largely thanks to the approach taken by the teachers. They recognise that each child is an individual with specific requirements. Their teaching methods reflect the individual needs of each child.

When I arrived, the children in the Juniors had been prepped. Miss Gordon (Head of Lower School) had already taken them through the prologue of Anne Droyd and Century Lodge and the bit in chapter three where Anne breaks out of the box. Inspired by this, the youngsters had drawn book covers and their own android. They are to feature in a display in the library with photos of my visit!

Upon arriving, I was spotted by a boy and he shouted, “He’s here! He’s here!” The excitement was tangible.

Fifty boys were assembled in a small hall and I spoke to them about my own school experiences and how I would have thrived if I’d have gone to a school like theirs. I also showed them the benefits of writing in a way that they would grasp. I showed them Doctor Who Weekly (still published today as Doctor Who Magazine) and my competition entry at the age of nine. I showed them my Blue Peter badge and highlighted that these cannot be bought in shops. One has to write into the programme to stand a chance of being awarded one. And I finished by telling them about my appearances on television, which again were achieved by writing letters.

Accompanied by Miss Gordon and my PR Theresa Cutts, I had lunch with the children, one of which sat at our table and told me the history of Lego! Another spoke to me about the Doctor Who comic strip he’s been writing. I was then given a tour of the school’s impressive grounds.

After lunch, while waiting to do my first lesson, I was mobbed in a corridor by children wanting autographs. It was quite an experience. It was also very humbling, that I’d had that much of an impact on them.

In the first lesson I chatted with and read to 25 youngsters, aged eight to ten. The second lesson involved slightly older children. Both groups were enthusiastic and full of questions about the book, writing and what Anne gets up to in the story. They loved the bit where Anne deals with the school bully!

The day finished with Miss Gordon handing out certificates to those who had achieved a high standard of learning and/or good personal character development that week. I presented the certificates as each child came forward. The boys that had produced the best book covers and had made a great contribution to the day, were awarded signed Anne Droyd posters, while all the children received Anne Droyd badges. Then I signed autographs for those children who had not reached me when I was mobbed earlier! It was a joy to see how thrilled the winners were and how pleased for them the other pupils were.

Throughout the day, I sensed that things were going well, but didn’t realise how well until the very end. A teacher told me I’d caused quite a stir and that one of the boys who normally showed little interest in reading had asked to order my books. It was a fantastic feeling to know that along with Anne Droyd, I had inspired those not normally interested in reading into wanting to discover more.

Letters have been sent to parents explaining that their child can have a signed copy of one or both Anne Droyd books if they order.

There has already been talk of me possibly going back and doing it again. I feel honoured to have made such an impression and would welcome the opportunity for a repeat visit.

I would like to thank my PR for organising it!

Here is a link to the More House web site: http://www.morehouseschool.com/

And here is a link to my TV appearance from 1998: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsJL56FDefA

Thursday, 16 July 2009

RBS World magazine interview


I was interviewed by RBS World magazine (my day job is working in a customer service centre for said bank) ages ago with a view to featuring in its third issue. The article never appeared in the paper magazine, but it has since manifested in the online version.
UPDATE: The editor has been in touch to say the article will be going in the next issue of the paper version. Yipee!


Saturday, 2 May 2009

"The Pool of Fire" Told in Music.


The Tripods was a BBC television serial adapted from John Christopher’s trilogy of novels about a future earth stripped of technology, and a society of humans that has had its creativity, ingenuity and rebellious nature suppressed by a skull implant called a Cap. Four boys avoid the Capping ritual imposed by the alien Tripods and join other free thinking un-Capped humans hiding in the Swiss Alps.

While some viewers felt the pace of the series was painfully slow, all were in agreement over the major plusses, namely the principle actors, the Tripods themselves (realised by cross cutting between model shots and full sized Tripod legs) and Ken Freeman’s superb music score.
Ken was not just a composer who worked with synthesisers, he was an inventor, and built his own keyboards. He supplied the synths for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds (1978). The strings you can hear on that iconic record aren’t the strings of an orchestra, but the keys of Ken Freeman’s synthesiser. What he was engineering was way ahead of the regular pop music of the day.

The Tripods TV series was aired across 1984 and 1985, and then, in an attempt to save money, the BBC chose the axe the filming of the third and final book.

Fast forward 25 years, and BBC DVD has released Series One and Two, alongside a BBC4 documentary entitled The Cult of The Tripods as a limited edition set. A booklet has been thrown in describing how the third book would have been realised on screen, and Ken Freeman has composed and recorded new music for the unmade third segment.

Entitled The Pool of Fire Suite (named after the book), the seven track album authentically recaptures the style and mood of the television series while telling the final third of the story in music.

The opening track, “A Plan of Action” is, for me, the weakest, because it doesn’t quite do what it says on the can. It’s supposed to conjure up the boys returning from the Tripods’ city to the Freemen’s destroyed mountain camp (which is where Series Two climaxed) and then finding the relocated community and drafting up a plan to destroy the enemy. I think it would have been better for the track to start by recapping the feeling of doom, perhaps using the same music from the Series Two climax and then build the new composition from there. As it is, this track serves more as a taster for what’s to come. There are recognisable sounds and established melodies – if anything, it’s saying, “The Tripods is back!”

“The Green Man” is good, capturing the scene where the boys send out a green man on a green horse to attract the attention of a Tripod, with the intention of seizing the machine and its occupant. Some of this track is used on the menus to the DVD and is quite stirring.

“A Drink With Ruki” starts with a flowery piece, featuring a very pleasant melody on the flute. It makes me think of Austria in the summer (or any countryside scene, really). There a few sounds later on that suggest the improvised chamber housing the captured Master. It gets a bit too poppy for my liking towards the end, but on the whole it’s a nice track.

The alien winds put you in mind of “The Pool of Fire”, the heart of the Tripods’ City of Gold, in the track of the same name. I would have preferred a few more sounds from Ken’s Season Two score to confirm that we are back in the city, but this track does let you know you’re in a dangerous place. Again, it concludes with something akin to 1980s pop music, which doesn’t feel part of The Tripods somehow.

“Summer Wind” is as pleasant as the title suggests.

“Freedom” is the big one as far as the story is concerned. It charts the Freemen’s attempts to drop explosives from hot air balloons onto the dome of the Tripods’ city to shatter it. In the end, Will’s cousin Henry has to land his balloon on the dome and detonate his bomb directly. The dome is shattered and he is killed in the process. The sound of the explosion is built into the music and I shudder every time I get to this bit, as I imagine Henry – as played by Jim Baker in the series – blown to smithereens.

When Ken released some remix CDs in the 1990s, I was disappointed to find that although he had produced two new versions of the catchy Opening Theme to the TV series, he hadn’t done anything with the rousing Closing Theme, with its stirring trombones and addictive da-da-da da da-da da rhythm. But in the last track on this MP3 release, “The Conference of Man”, he has more than made up for it. This is my favourite piece of music on the new album, and it sets the whole thing off perfectly.

As with the original soundtrack CD, I lament the omission of the Tripods’ hunting call, because it’s their signature in a way, and while technically being a sound effect, for me it’s part of the musicscape and should be in there.

The composer went to great lengths to make sure these new compositions can sit comfortably alongside his Series One and Two scores, even renting an old Synclavier II synthesiser to recreate the main sounds.

Anyone who loves Ken’s other Tripods albums will love this. Anyone who loves classical music realised electronically will love this.

I highly recommend it.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

My Literary Hero: JOHN CHRISTOPHER


I've been enjoying a John Christopher month these past thirty days. Two items worthy of mention were released in quick succession.

One was a book entitled The Death of Grass, a re-issue of John Christopher's 1950s dystopia novel where all grass based foods die out, leaving the world half starved and the populace desperate. I'm half way through it and held captive by it (though, it's not for children).

The other was a DVD entitled The Tripods, a BBC television adaptation of John Christopher's trilogy of novels for young people where the world a hundred years from now has been stripped of its technological advances and people live in quaint villages under the rule of alien Tripod machines. Sadly, because of the BBC's attitude (in particular the attitudes of BBC1 controller Michael Grade and Head of Series and Serials, Jonathan Powell) towards science-fiction in the 1980s and a need to save money, the final book of the trilogy was never filmed.

I was introduced to the Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire, published in 1967/8) through the BBC series in 1984. I fell in love with the books and obsessed about meeting Mr. Christopher many times over the years that followed.

I'd heard about The Death of Grass, and saw it praised by author Brian Aldiss on a BBC4 science-fiction documentary in 2006. I'm so pleased that Penguin have re-issued it as a "Penguin Modern Classic" after all this time. It certainly deserves it.

I was astonished when John Christopher - real name Sam Youd - endorsed my autobiographical book The Feeling's Unmutual in 2004, and felt deeply honoured when he later invited me to visit him at his home in Rye, East Sussex.

Sam signed a deal with Disney's more adult film making arm Touchstone a few years ago with a view to turning his Tripods trilogy into a series of movies. Director Alex Proyas (I, Robot, Knowing) is now attached to the project, and I can't wait to see the end result.

As I write, I'm doing the rounds with the literary agents. To date, three British agents have turned down my Anne Droyd books (one saying, "it is indeed a very enjoyable series, but I don't have any contacts that would be interested in it"), and an agent in the United States has yet to respond.

It has occurred to me that America might be the place where Anne succeeds. They would be less concerned about the real life issues in the stories (in fact, they would likely embrace them) and less bothered by the brief questions about God therein. Time will tell. If they do get in touch, it might mean transposing the characters and stories to the U.S., something I would have to weigh up when the time comes.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

FAN MAIL!


This is my latest piece of fan mail. It's from ten-year-old Kiera Bayliss and it's a genuine expression from the heart. I imagined that her mother had helped her out with the wording of it. But no. Kiera asked if she knew me to talk to, and when the answer came back in the affirmative, she gave her mother a sealed envelope and said, "Well will you give that to him, then?"

It's lovely when children approach me and tell me they really enjoyed the book and that they can't wait for the next one. It's lovely when parents inform me that their son or daughter has done a presentation about it before their class at school. But there's something really heartwarming when one receives a letter like the one above.

Thank you Kiera (and Alex Cain, who sent me something similar recently). It is very much appreciated.

Love,

Will.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

AN EXCELLENT REVIEW!


The first online review of Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows has appeared on Amazon UK. It is written by Adrian J Andrews. He gives the book five stars and heaps on the praise.

Adrian writes;

"This is a superb second outing for the little robot girl, Anne Droyd, and her chums (The first installment being "Anne Droyd and Century Lodge"). It's time for a winter holiday and the gang take a coach trip to Whitby where they stay at a peculiar and spooky guesthouse run by an equally peculiar family.

Part of the magic of these stories is that every single location used actually exists in real life, and Mr. Hadcroft's descriptions are so complete that it would be a doddle to organize Anne Droyd tours for the kids if you were stuck for something to do over a long weekend.

The author has really done his research too. Without giving too much away and spoiling the story, chemicals are mentioned at one point and the information being put across is accurate (very handy if a young reader is going to sit a science exam!) The style of writing has changed slightly from the first book which is completely befitting the subject matter, and now we are familiar with the characters, Will Hadcroft wastes no time throwing them into this new situation and takes us with them on a very pace-driven ride.

This is a much deeper story than the original and has been given a 'no messing' approach. All-in-all this book carries a lot of weight and leaves you champing at the bit to get your hands on the third installment (Anne Droyd and the Ghosts of Winter Hill) which, as I write hasn't even been written yet!

There are going to be ten Anne Droyd novels which, if the present offerings are anything to go by, are going to give a certain young wizard a run for his money and, like him, are crying out for a film producer to get his hands upon."
Thank you, Adrian, from the bottom of my heart.

I know a lot more people out there feel the same way about the book, but haven't written an official review. I'm grateful for all the positive comments received thus far, but I really do need them in writing to offer as evidence to the big name publishers.

At the top of this entry is one of the real life locations from Whitby. It's the building on Khyber Pass which served as the starting point for the House of Shadows of the title. The house in my story is situated on the grassy verge to the left. In the distance, you can just make out St. Mary's church and the ruined abbey.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Whitby Gazette


When I was three-years-old, I went with my parents, my grandparents, and my cousin Tracy to Whitby. There, I fell in love with the miniature railway situated on the North Promenade. Every morning before breakfast, I "helped" the driver test the track and run the engine round the track.

Three years later, I returned with my parents and younger brother, and there was the train again. I loved it!

Fast forward some twenty years. I persuaded my wife to visit Whitby. Everything was how I remembered it, barring one detail: the train and track had been replaced by a tractor pulling carriages around a now railless track. I was gutted.

When I knew I would be setting Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows in Whitby, I determined to reestablish the little train, if only in fiction, and have Malcolm and Sophie "help" the driver test the track before breakfast as I once did. And you never know - should the series take off and provoke many a fan to visit the town, the council might be pressured into putting the little attraction back where it belongs!
Caroline Gough at the legendary Whitby Gazette has published a nice piece about it, which you can read here http://www.whitbygazette.co.uk/whats-on/Author39s-fondness-for-Whitby-inspires.4793832.jp

And the book is now stocked by the equally legendary Whitby Bookshop, presided over by Sue Keates, and located on Church Street.

The above photograph shows me aged 3 with cousin Tracy and Granddad on the platform to the much missed miniature train on the North Promenade, Whitby, 1973.