… author of Escape From Furnace, The Fury, The Inventors, and the brand new Devil's Engine series

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Lockdown!

1. The name of the Furnace Penitentiary actually comes from a horror book for adults that I wrote when I was 18. Back then it was a prison for the criminally insane where the inmates were being hunted by bloodthirsty angels! The book was never published, and I loved the name Furnace so I stole it!

2. In the original draft of the novel, Alex Sawyer’s name was Alex Smith, the same as mine! I wanted the book to feel as real as possible, so I wrote it with my name and even suggested that the author biography went something along the lines of: “Alexander Smith was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to life without parole in Furnace Penitentiary. This is his story.” The UK publishers didn’t like the idea, though, so his surname was changed to Sawyer!

3. Likewise, Zee’s name was originally Zed. However, there were too many instances of “Zed Said” and it was starting to sound like a Dr Seuss book, so I changed it to the American pronunciation, Zee!

4. Originally I wanted Furnace to be a modern prison, built above ground. Then, for research, I went to investigate some medieval dungeons in Norwich, where I live. My cheeky little brother locked me in a cell deep underground in the old prison, and as I was panicking in the tiny, pitch black (and probably haunted) space I decided that the prison would be far more terrifying if it was buried beneath the earth.

5. The only characters I had trouble describing when I was writing Lockdown were the Wheezers. I knew what I wanted them to be but I couldn’t pin them down on the page. So I made a real-life Wheezer head out of rubber, burning and painting it until it looked right. I bought an old gas mask and stitched it on, then gave it a filthy rain slicker. Once I had done this I knew exactly what these nightmare creatures looked like, and what it was like to have one in your house! I even took it round to Jamie’s house and left it outside his room one night to get revenge for him locking me in a cell!

6. In the UK the series is called Furnace, but it was changed in the US to Escape From Furnace. One of the reasons for this is that Wes, my editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pointed out that in the States most people have a furnace in their basement, and that they aren’t particularly scary! In the UK hardly anybody has a furnace!

7. As part of researching the book I thought I owed it to myself to find out what it was like to shoot a gun. After all, there are plenty of gunfights in Lockdown and I wanted the story to feel as genuine and realistic as possible. A friend of mine, Adam, invited me to come shooting for rabbits with him one weekend. I told him I didn’t want to shoot anything living, so he informed me that the best thing to shoot was actually… a cowpat! We spent the morning out on the fields doing exactly that. When you shoot a cowpat with a shotgun it literally explodes – it’s like watching a poo volcano! There was one unfortunate incident when we both shot a giant cowpat at the same time. It rose up, caught the wind, and surged in the direction of Adam’s little brother, who was out shooting with us. The poor boy turned around to see a wall of cow dung flying towards him. He didn’t have time to dodge. He didn’t even have time to close his mouth. It was so disgusting! As well as being hilarious, the experience really helped me describe what it was like to fire a gun.

8. When I first pitched the series to my agent I misspelled the name of the book in the email, calling it FUNRACE (I was so excited about the idea I sent it off without checking)! She probably thought the story was about a jolly marathon – until she read the synopsis!

9. I called one of the villains in the book Kevin Arnold without noticing that it was the same name as the kid in The Wonder Years (even though I always used to watch the show). I could have changed it, but thought it would be interesting to have such a horrible character share the name of one of the nicest kids on television!

10. In the trailer for Furnace (which you can see here), the boy burgling the house is my little brother, Jamie, and the Wheezer is actually me!

New Challenge: Eight Novels in a Year

Yesterday was my last event for a few months and it went brilliantly – a whole day of talks and workshops with Year 8 at Heathersett High School in Norwich. I have to say that the pupils who came to the talk, and especially those who joined in the workshops, were amongst the best that I have ever worked with – so full of amazing, and gory, ideas! Thanks to you all for being so much fun to work with, and to Sara and Lorraine for inviting me in!

It’s been a really busy year with events and editing, and of course having the first three books in the Furnace series published. It’s been amazing fun, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of time to do any writing. I have written two very short books this year, which is great, but nowhere near as many as I wanted to write. And to be honest I think I have become a little lazy in my writing habits. So, in order to inspire myself to start writing seriously again, I have set myself a challenge:

I am going to write eight novels in a year.

Yes, eight novels between now, today, the 1st of December 2009, and the 30th November 2010. Why eight? Well, it was going to be 12, then I thought that would probably kill me. Then I said six, but I didn’t think that was challenging enough (I mean it would still be a huge challenge, but I’d probably end up not starting until next summer or something, I needed it to be such a huge task that I’d have to start right away), so then I went to 10, and thought that was too challenging, and finally settled on eight.

Of course I’m not intending to write eight flawless, finished novels in this time (me write a flawless novel, ha!). No, the idea is to write eight first drafts that I can then move on and edit and trim and finish at my own pace. Really what I want to do is write write write and get some ideas down on paper, actually get some manuscripts written. Some of them may be rubbish, but they’ll at least be a starting point.

Can I do it? I’m not sure. The most I’ve ever written in a year was three full-length novels and a screenplay. But I’ll have six weeks to finish each book, and I don’t think it’s ever taken me longer than that to finish the first draft of a novel. Anyway, the fun will be in the trying!

I’m thinking that each book will be around 60,000 words long, on average, which is almost half a million words in total. That breaks down into 1,300 (ish) words every day, which sounds very doable if I don’t think about the days that I won’t be able to write anything at all. Anyway, the more I think about the numbers the worse this idea sounds, so I’m going to do what I do best and not think about the logistics. I’m just going to start writing!

I’ll keep you all updated on the blog!

Wish me luck!

PS. Thanks to my good friend Tim Clare for inspiring me. He set himself a challenge of writing 100 poems in a single day which sounded impossible, but he did it! So I’m following his lead!