Thanks so much for navigating the internet and finding me in my little corner of the world wide web. If you don’t already know, I’m a Middle-Grade Author (which means I write books for 7-11’s) and I scribble silly doodles inside them (because that’s what I’ve been doing since school, you should see my old English books!)
WARNING: This might be the most epic About Me page on the internet! It’s a monster, so read on at your own peril.
When asked about their childhood, most authors’ eyes will glaze over with happiness, like two sugar-glazed doughnuts with multi-coloured sprinkle. They will tell you how they camped out in their local library (probably with their library card tattooed to their arm) and stayed up past their bedtime to devoured book after book and wrote their own adventure stories in a field of daisy’s to the sound of birdsong with the ghost of Charles Dickens giving them pointers.
But not me.
I was around 7 years old when it was my turn to read-aloud the book in class. I took a deep breath and gave it my best shot. Then the entire class erupted in laughter. I was confused. I thought I had read it right. Maybe this book about the Victorians was meant to be funny? Then the teacher stepped in and said, “stop laughing, he mis-read that sentence by accident. James struggles at reading.”
And just like that I was labelled.
“I’m no good at it, so clearly reading isn’t for me.”
That’s it all took to put me off books for the next 6 years. And whenever I picked up a pen or pencil, I would doodle silly stuff instead of writing serious stuff.
Here’s the worst part—my mum is a LIBRARIAN!
She should have thrown me on the street and disowned me for my transgressions. But all credit to her (and all mums everywhere). She never gave up on me. Reading countless books to me at bedtime. Taking me to her library and encouraging me to explore. Throwing book after book in my face, hoping, one day, something would stick.
Then we went on a canal barge holiday. For those of you who have never gone through this unique form of torture, a barge is a long thin tin can that floats along the canals of England. That means no TV, no internet, no shower, and no hope. Just a tiny living space with nothing to do for the next 5 days.
I had two options:
- Listen to the sound of a diesel engine slowly bore a hole in my skull
- Listen to my older sister as she read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
I choose option 2. She finished the first book in one day, the second book the next day and the third by the end of the holiday. Like every other child in the world, I was hooked! Then the fourth book was released, and it was the size of a small family car. My sister took one look at the beast, weighing in at a whooping 636 pages long, and said “no way, read it yourself”.
I wanted to throttle J. K. Rowling. Come on, I thought this is supposed to be a children’s book, not an encyclopedia! But I stuck with it and read the whole thing over the summer holidays. When looking at her ‘allergic-to-books-son’ reading an actual book on his bed, my mum must have thought it was some sort of cruel merge from library fatigue. When I finished it, she must have thrown a street party inside her head and done a 5-hour-long victory dance in the garage.
Thank God for my mum and my big sister. Without them, I might have become a canal barge engineer specialising in fixing diesel engines (yawn!)
How it All Started ⚡
The thought of writing and illustrating books as a career choice never entered my brain until one of my university lecturers and mentors saw some potential and enrolled me onto a 2-day writing conference at Durham University.
Before that moment, I wrote stuff for fun (silly picture books for girlfriends, drama sketches for kid’s clubs, and random fanfiction that will never see the light of day). However, going to a writer’s conference means you need to bring along a working draft. Oh dear!, thought the twenty-year-old, greasy-haired student. I suppose this means I should try to write something good!
At the time, I was reading all sorts of stuff—fantasy, sci-fi, bit of historical, and some middle-grade in between. Out of all the options above, I chose middle-grade for one main reason. It had the shortest word count!
I went to the conference with my manuscript called The Grotty Spoon (which became my first book, having gone through an identity crisis and reemerged with a much better name—The Chef Who Cooked Up a Catastrophe). I rubbed shoulders with authors and publishers. I talked about books all day and then drank whiskey and talked to more people about books all night. I LOVED IT!
I came home having caught the writing bug. But there were still some sensible brain cells rattling around my head that persuaded me to enroll in a PGCE Course and become a Secondary School R.E. Teacher. It was the typical—you can’t earn a living by being a writer, so you better get a real job—misconception young people are told by boring adult.
Cue the non-boring adult who saved me from a life of tweed jackets and PTSD—my Uncle James.
The summer before I was set to train as a teacher, I went with my dad to visit Uncle James and his family in Germany. He worked in the British Army training snipers and used to let me play video games that were not age appropriate, so he was hands down the best uncle you could ever wish for! Sadly, he was dying from a brain tumor, and this was likely to be the last time we would get to see him.
We had a conversation that went some like this:
Uncle James: What do you want to do with your life?
Me: Well, I’ve just enrolled in teacher training. So, I’m going to become an R.E. Teacher.
Uncle James: Great, but you didn’t answer my question.
Me: pause, not wanting to say what I was thinking.
Uncle James: We both know that’s not what you want to do, am I right?
Me: further pause, double-checking my dad is not listening. No. I want to become an author. I want to write and illustrate books for a living. But that won't pay the bills, so I'm going to get a proper profession and do some writing in my spare time.
Uncle James: Well then, I think you’re an idiot.
Me: stunned silence
Uncle James: You can either waste your time becoming something you’re not, or you can start working on becoming the thing you really want to be.
Me: Umm, yep. I agree. I am an idiot.
Uncle James: You're welcome.
When I returned home, I told my then girlfriend that I was going to quit the teacher training course. I fully expected her to whack me over the head with logic and reason and maybe the PGCE Course Handbook for good measure, but she agreed with my uncle’s assessment of my stupid career choice riddled with sensible idiocy.
The wonderful young women didn’t want me to be a miserable old fart teaching Religious Practices to teenagers. She even stuck with me through the low-wage jobs and keyboard typing and pencil shavings and rubber dust. Now we’re married, and her love and support have meant I’m a happy fart instead of a miserable one.
My uncle was an amazing man and role-model. I credit him as the one who pushed me off the cliff without a parachute. But my wife is the one who jumped off with me as we plummeted into the unknown abyss. Fortunately, 10-years later my writing career reached the point where it’s became a decent wage that does pay the bills.
I wake up every day and get to create something new that will (hopefully) make kids laugh and enjoy reading.
What an amazing privilege!
Education & Work 💼
Over the years, I’ve studied some weird stuff and had an out-of-the-ordinary career path:
- BTEC in Music Practice
- Diploma in Evangelism
- Bachelor of Theology
- Newspaper round
- Pet Shop Lacky
- Sainsbury’s Shelfstacker
- Eden.co.uk Pick and Packer
- Paper Bag & Plastic Container Warehouse Worker
- Church Children’s & Family Worker
- Primary School After-School Club Assistant
- Secondary School Teaching Assistant
- Eden.co.uk General Dogsbody
My Family 👨👩👧👧
The Wife: What an amazing woman (read the above section to find out why). She loves chocolate. Our house is a chocolaty black hole. If it dares to approach, it will get sucked in and never escape! If a book doesn’t have at least one murder in the opening chapter, she will immediately discard it. Although I’ve made her sound like a psychopath with a sweet tooth, she is actually a lovely person with a huge heart.
Reuben: My first-born. At the time of writing, he is the wonderful age of four. He lives for 4:15pm (also known as TV-Time). When he isn’t asking what the time is, you’ll find him firing arrows in the garden pretending to be Robin Hood, waving a foam sword around the house pretending to be a pirate, or shouting ROAAAAR at the top of his lungs pretending to be a dinosaur.
Caleb: My second-born. At the time of writing, he is a lovely little baby. For reasons unknown to all medical professionals, he was born with the hair of a 45-year-old travelling salesman (a world-class comb-over). His little smile could melt the polar ice caps, so for the sake of humanity, we promise to NEVER go on holiday to Antartica.
Steve the Cactus: Despite what my wife claims, Steve is a very important member of our family. He sits on my desk as I write and illustrate and encourages me to be the best version of myself. Every. Damn. Day. He could easily go back to Mexico to become the mascot for a Mariachi Band. But he’s a loyal cactus and a true friend. What a legend!
Writing Process 📱
Here’s where this gets weird.
Most authors I’ve talked to give similar answers. They either write on a laptop in a coffee shop, home office or shared working space. Or they dictate their words into a voice recorder while walking with their dogs or doing housework.
I write on my phone.
And I write everywhere.
- I wrote most of The Skeleton Keys Chronicles in the bath (with water and bubbles, obviously).
- I wrote a good chunk of The Boy Who Stole One Million Socks on a hammock in Mexico.
- I wrote most of The Chef Who Cooked Up a Catastrophe in bed (10 minutes before getting up to go to work and 10 minutes before I went to bed).
- I wrote most of The Excuse Encyclopedia in my head whilst cycling to work, then wrote the best stuff done on my phone in the toilet.
I also do the normal stuff too (my local Starbucks enjoys the business, I’m sure). But around half of my writing happens in the natural cracks of life: traffic jams, queues at the supermarket, rocking a baby to sleep, TV adverts, lunch breaks at work, and whenever my wife talks to me for over 2 minutes. Basically, whenever most open social media on their phones, I open a word document of my latest project.
When it comes to plotting, there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. A plotter will completely plot their story, chapter by chapter, before starting their novel so they know exactly what will happen. A pantser will start with something that’s inspired them, a dramatic scene or a conversation or even the ending and then write into the dark letting the story form itself. In other words, a plotter trains their story like it’s a poodle and then goes on a leisurely walk through the words, whereas a pantser rides the story like an untamed dragon.
I’m 90% plotter and 10% pantser.
I love laying everything out on the table. I always write the story from the beginning and, no matter how hard I try, I can’t start writing a book until I know how it’s going to end. However, the middle bit can go away where it wants.
It’s like a Sat Nav. I know where I’m starting, and I know the end destination. I don’t set off on the journey until I’ve mapped out the route. But I know there are going to be diversions along the way. Something is going to happen that I haven’t planned for. And I’m fine with that.
Heck, I look forward to it!
Doodling Process ✏️
Unlike my process for getting words down on the page, my illustrating (fancy word for the silly cartoons I draw) all happens in the same three places: dining room table, office desk or the coffee table.
There is a lovely view from outside our dining room of a green space. Trees, birds, and loads of cute squirrels. Plus, Reuben enjoys sitting next to his dad doing his important work. It’s the kid’s main perk of being my son. I can’t mend things or tell bad jokes (I hope), but I can draw whatever he wants to colour in.
The coffee table is in the living room, where the TV lives. When I fancy working into the night, I’ll pull up a pew and listen to something, with the occasional glance at the screen, whilst scribbling and rubbing out and scribbling again and rubbing out again.
And the home office has a door.
I take inspiration from anything and everything on the internet and the world around us. You can google anything, and it’ll ping back hundreds and hundreds of images. And it turns out my phone has a camera and a word processor. I take photos all the time and look back at the colours and the shapes and the faces to find something extra to add to my drawings.
When it comes to getting them into the books, that’s when I reveal my technophobia. Most illustrators are using fancy equipment and powerful software and all sorts of cool mumbo jumbo. I just use a 15-year-old scanner from my uni days and Paint.net.
It’s primary school stuff compared to everyone else, but that’s what works for me and I like the results. Simple, but funny.
Recording Audiobooks in my Wardrobe 🗝️
Yep, you read that title right!
Audiobooks are the growth market for books. But they cost a heck of a lot to produce for self-published authors. Narrators, editing, adding music and sound effects, and mastering the audio file for the retailers. Big investment.
But us independent authors are creative (well, creative and cheapskates!) So, when I want to record an audiobook, I clear out the built-in wardrobe in my bedroom and turn it into a tiny recording studio. Yes—it’s cramped. Yes—it feels odd. Yes—every time I do it I wear a wooly jumper, just in case I stumble into Narnia.
It’s a long process. Half a day to record a book. Around two days to do the editing (accompanied by an amble amount of swearing). Another half day to master and upload the files to the retailers.
But it’s fun. I’d rather be doing that than stacking shelves or explaining the returns policy to a frustrated customer. Plus, the end result is awesome. Check here to listen to a sample.
My Top 5 Favourite Books 📚
Must have read this book into double figures! Considering Terry was just writing this for a laugh - it’s a masterpiece.
I’d describe the book as the Mona Lisa of humourous fantasy . . . with a huge grin!
Keep on having flashbacks to watching ‘The Muppets Treasure Island’ as a kid! Made me chuckle a lot, and I also really enjoyed reading a story in the first person for a change.
It’s a classic. One which I will definitely read again, seeing as I loved Long John Silver’s character, and the long-lost dreams of boyhood pirate fantasy.
Wow! Goosebumps have formed on top of goosebumps.
I can’t add anything more to what readers have already said, so I’ll just share a personal story instead. I read the final Harry Potter book in my 2nd year at university (but the 1st book came out when I was in my 1st year of high school, making me the same age as the world’s most famous fictional wizard). 20-year-old James was reading in bed. I’d reached the point when Harry walks into the Forbidden Forrest to face Voldemort ready to die when my housemate burst into the room. He stuck a hat on my head, sang a stupid song, talked at me for several minutes, then stumbled out of the room. I, like a true bookworm, completely ignored him as Voldemort spoke the killing curse.
Since then, I’ve reread this book at least five times. And probably will read it another 5 five times in the future as well.
Reading this book feels like it was written for me. Every line is laced with silliness, more silliness, and a healthy dollop of lemon meringue. It’s a series that I will read to my kids (and I can guarantee we’ll all be crying with hysterical laughter).
I’ve found my spirit animal, and it’s these books.
Such a clever book.
There were so many bits that pulled at loose threads dangling from my noggin. It made ponder about life and death and the effect we leave on the world and the crossover between ignorance and bravery and so on and so on to the point I could feel my head grow with empathy and emotional intellect (I know, cool that a book can do that to your, right!?!) The imagination, wordcraft, and story brilliance that has manifested in between Neils ears is astonishing. I wish to one day shake his hand (and then pin him to the floor as I attempt to steal his brain).
And I love how it came about too—he watched as his son played in a graveyard and imagined that was his home and the souls of the died and buried were his guardians.
In no particular order, here’s some of the other stuff I enjoy doing:
- The Little Big Band—I stand at the back playing the bass guitar, walking up and down the fretboard like a smooth criminal
- Kids Church—I help at my church with the Sunday kids’ bit (which is basically something from Truth or Poop followed by silly games and some sort of crazy magic trick which has a 50% success rate)
- Board Game Geek—me and Mrs Warwood try to play at least one board game a week. We’ve got enough plastic-covered cardboard, plastic figurines, and plastic dice to make Greenpeace start a petition.
- Making Random Stuff—when I need a plate cleanser from a book project, I concoct a completely different creative project. So far, I’ve made a Star Wars Themed Baby Mobile, learnt how to make the perfect brownies, and become a Pokemon Master at least five times over. (P.S. Pokemon Red is still the best. End of discussion).
Social Media 📣
Here’s a simple guide to where I hang out online:
Instagram—writing updates, whatever I’m currently drawing, and general life stuff
Twitter—the occasional musings, plus a few squirrel jokes
Goodreads—author Q&A’s and reviews of the books I’m reading
Facebook—very, very occasional post (book releases, that’s it)
Mailing List—you can also join the mailing list, where I share everything important, keeping fans up to date with what’s going on, as well as monthly competitions
Wow. I can’t believe you actually made it all the way to the end! That must have been an epic poop!!
I certainly got a little carried away, but I hope you enjoyed reading about me.
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