Written for and first published by Books for Keeps December 2015


Andrew Norriss

I heard someone use the phrase ‘a vomit script’ recently. She was a television writer and, when asked how her new project was going, replied that she’d only got as far as ‘a vomit script’ but was pleased with what had come up. What she meant, I gathered, was that she had sat down, with only the vaguest idea of what she was going to write, and let whatever came into her head spew out onto the page. Later, of course, she would go back and write it properly, but she reckoned that all sorts of stuff came up spontaneously in that way, that would emerge in no other.

It is not how I write myself. Or how most writers work. In my days as an A level history teacher, I told my students (as I had been told myself) that before you launched into an essay, it was essential to have a plan. I assumed this applied to all forms of writing. Even a novel needs a plan. Trollope might only take a day or two to plan one of his tomes, while P G Wodehouse might take several months, but we all have to have a plan.

It came as quite a surprise when I first met a writer who didn’t. Astonishingly, he really did just sit down and start writing, trusting that something in his unconscious would map things out and lead his story to a satisfactory resolution. Even more astonishing, it seemed to work, and I was intrigued enough to want to try it myself.

I’d had an idea for a ghost story. I thought it might be a nice twist to start from the ghost’s point of view instead of the person who sees one, and the picture I had in my head was of a girl (I called her Jessica), who discovers that she’s dead (she has no idea how she died and nor did I) wandering around in a world where no one can see her. That’s all I knew when I sat down and started writing. I had no other characters, no story arc, no plan… I was going to write just whatever came up.

The first thing that came up was that she met a boy about her own age who was able to see her. The boy was Jessica's Ghostmostly interested in fashion and dress making (goodness knows where that came from) but he seemed a decent enough lad and he got on rather well with Jessica… For a while, my story explored how it might be fun to have a friend who was a ghost, and then a second character turned up who could see Jessica and, a few chapters later, a third. I still had no idea where all this might be going when – and I can remember the exact moment – like a bomb going off in my head, I suddenly knew how Jessica had died.

She had committed suicide.

And in the same instant I knew that, I also knew what was going to happen in the rest of the story, including how it was going to end, and – and this was the really weird bit – it suddenly made sense of all the stuff that had come before. It fitted. Almost like I had had a story arc planned out beforehand. There was also, for some reason, no choice. That was how Jessica had died. There was no debate, no exploring of other avenues or looking at other possibilities… because there weren’t any. Jessica had killed herself and I could either go with that or abandon the story.

For several weeks, abandoning it was my preferred option. I’m a writer for children for goodness sake and most of my books have ‘Andrew Norriss has a wonderfully light comic touch’ emblazoned on the front. A quote from a particularly nice review I got some time in the last century. What on earth was I doing with a story about suicide? Who would want to give a story like this to their innocent off spring? What young person would want to read it? Was there any point in pressing on?

I did press on, but it was only when the vomit draft was finally finished that I was able to see that suicide is not really what Jessica’s Ghost is about. It acknowledges something we all know – that life can sometimes be an unbearably painful business – but the real emphasis is on the things that, despite this, make the game of life worth playing. Friendship, kindness, laughter, love, healing… Precisely the things, I was delighted to see, that were picked up in the review the book was given in Books for Keeps. I’d like to think that Jessica’s story is a reminder that, however dark life gets, you never really know what’s around the corner, what can change, or who will appear with a light to help you tread safely into the unknown.

The sort of things, in fact, that I’m always trying to remember myself.

Mind you, next book I write, I’m not typing a word without a definite plan.

The winner of the 2015 Costa Children’s Book Award will be announced on Monday 4th January 2016.

Jessica’s Ghost, David Fickling Books, 978-1910200339, £10.99 hbk

Aquila, Puffin, 978-0141308951, £5.99 pbk

Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2015

Delighted to see Friends for Life on this prestigious list!

Waking Brain Cells

Publisher’s Weekly has released their list of the best books for 2015. These include books for preschoolers through young adults. Here are their picks:


The Day the Crayons Came HomeThe Dog That Nino Didn't HaveFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have by Edward van de Vendel, illustrated by Anton Van Hertbruggen

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de AnimalesHomeThe King and the Sea

Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems by Julie Paschkis

Home by Carson Ellis

The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch

Last Stop on Market StreetLenny & LucyLeo: A Ghost Story

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Night WorldThe Only ChildThe Princess and the Pony

The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein

The Only Child by Guojing

The Princess and the…

View original post 292 more words

Was Gordon Wellesley Brittas a 20th Century Don Quixote?

Was Gordon Wellesley Brittas a 20th century Don Quixote? Brilliant article and really funny and clever video compilation illustrating the possibility. I’m not sure that Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen were aware of the idea when they were writing the series, but it certainly rings true here, and is poignant…

Divine Varod

CK12l2PWUAE0Iwl“There is either the maddest wise man or the wisest mad man in the world”

For many, many years I’ve been a fan of the story of “Don Quixote” the “Man from La Mancha” ever since I heard the songs from the 1964 musical performed on a TV show in the late 1980’s. Getting older I understood the song lyrics true meaning and became gripped by the story itself. The story written by Miguel de Cervantes between 1605 and 1615 was both satire and tragedy rolled into one. The sad tale of a man valiantly trying to do good but failing every time, unaware others see him as a joke. Oblivious of being mocked and despised even when it is done to his face.

View original post 778 more words

To Plan or not to Plan…

Andrew Norriss Guest Blog for Young Writers on Monday 9th March 2015

To Plan or not to Plan…

The actress Sarah Miles has a story of how she wanted to find out what her husband actually did when he disappeared off to his study for hours each day. He was Robert Bolt (world famous screenwriter) and she knew he was busy ‘writing’ but… what did that involve exactly?

So she got a ladder, climbed up to the window of his room on the first floor, and peered in. There he was, sitting at the table with his typewriter, and she watched as he typed for a bit, then stopped, pulled the paper out of the machine, screwed it up and threw it in the bin. He put in fresh paper, typed a bit… then took it out and threw it away. She stayed there half an hour and that was what he did. Again, and again.

I could have told her that’s what she’d see. Because that’s how I spend most of my day. Except I have a computer and a delete button instead of paper and a bin. It’s how all writers work. They write stuff, look at it, throw it away, and then write it again. And again. And again…

It always makes me laugh, when I see a ‘writer’ in some Hollywood movie sit down, type the words ‘Chapter One’ and just start bashing away until they’ve done 500 pages which they send round to a grateful publisher. I mean… that’s not how it works! A book has to be constructed. Before you start, you need a story arc, you need to know who your characters are, you need to know how your main theme will build to a final crisis, you need… you need a plan!

At least, that’s what I thought.

It was only when I started meeting other writers that I discovered there were some – not many, but some – who did no planning at all. They had an idea and, just like in the movies, they sat down and wrote, blindly trusting that their intuition would lead them through the narrative to a satisfying conclusion.

Listening to them talk, I was intrigued enough to think that it might be worth trying it myself, just to see what happened. I had had this idea about a girl – I called her Jessica – slowly realising that the reason everyone is ignoring her is that she’s dead. I had no idea how she’d died or what was going to happen to her, but… what would happen if, instead of working out a plan, I just started writing?

So I did. I sat down each day and pretty much wrote whatever came into my head. No planning, no story arc, no worrying where this whole thing might be going…

And the weird thing was that it worked. Sort of. The story that came out is pretty much the one you can read in Jessica’s Ghost and… and I liked it. In fact, I thought it was rather good.

…The only trouble was, it was very badly written.

Which is why, if anyone had peered in through the window while I was working on the umpteenth draft of Jessica’s Ghost, they would have seen me, sitting at my computer, writing for bit, then deleting it, and then doing the same thing again.

And again.

And again.


Many thanks to Young Writers for originally hosting this piece as part of the Jessica’s Ghost Blog Tour. Do have a look at their brilliant website which has advice, resources, recommended books, author interviews and encouragement for writers of all ages, and teachers and parents too.

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald…

Buy the books

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald…

EdwinOswald by Edoardo AlbertEdoardo-Albert1

I am a writer’s wife and one of the roles I have taken upon myself is to check online for any mentions of the writer, and that is how I discovered the wonderful writing of Edoardo Albert. I found Edoardo’s reviews of my writer’s books on Goodreads. They were so perceptive and beautifully written with wit, wisdom and originality. In particular my writer was astounded that Edoardo described exactly the way he writes (’with not a single spare word – achieved by boiling the word stew down until only the strongest broth remains’), and picked out the very essence of the story that he had wanted to convey. With delicious serendipity, by passing on our thanks and appreciation to Edoardo via Twitter, a connection was made and we were fortunate enough to discover Edwin and Oswald, Books 1 & 2 in The Northumbrian Thrones Series.

I have to admit to some trepidation when Edoardo generously sent us copies of Edwin and Oswald. We know many writers and I try to read their books, but mostly they are not the style of story or writing that I enjoy and so I keep quiet and have certainly never attempted to write a review. Imagine my relief and great delight when I started Edwin and loved it from the very first paragraph. I immediately felt at home and in safe hands. This was a writer I could trust; beautifully told stories that are so readable; the barest descriptions bringing alive another time and place; characters who feel so real. Without any emotional manipulation I cared about the lives of people from long ago and on occasion wept. Edoardo has the gift, as my writer does too, of writing without long descriptions and yet making pictures in my head. I don’t understand how they do it but it works. I admit to images from Game of Thrones appearing in my head when reading Oswald!

Edwin and Oswald are the best historical fiction; wonderful stories that give a complete view of life in those early times including religion, and the gradual change in beliefs and values. Christianity which has played such a large part in our history is subtly integrated as a natural part of people’s lives. I found it most interesting to read about its introduction and the effect it had on people’s lives and thinking. Oswald is such an interesting character as he wrestles with convention, family and tribal expectations, and the growing feeling that there might better way to live and rule. Beautifully done.

When I got to the end of Edwin in a very short time I was just so pleased to have Oswald to hand. Bernard Cornwall said Edwinleaves the reader wanting more’, and I would add so does Oswald! The only thing that could have made these books better is if there were more of them and I look forward to Oswiu, Book 3 in The Northumbrian Thrones Series in the future.

Edoardo Albert has a great gift for words and story telling that I could never begin to emulate
so enough of me,
go and read his books. They are a real treat. @thewriterswife

Buy the books

My review of Edwin

My review of Oswald

Goodreads Reviews of Edwin and Oswald

Edoardo Albert’s Website

Lion Hudson PLC

Anglo-Saxon and Viking Northumbria

Goodreads: Edoardo Albert’s reviews of Andrew Norriss’s books, works of art in themselves…

Jessica’s Ghost:So, let’s start a review of Andrew Norriss’s new book by talking about Alan Garner. Yes, that Alan Garner -‘
The Unluckiest Boy in the World: ‘Andrew Norriss is, in fact, The Unluckiest Author in the World. In any sane society a writer who consistently produces such unfailingly delightful books for children would be lauded and applauded, hailed…’
Ctrl-Z: ‘If, in the immortal words of Cher, I could turn back time, what would I do?’
Aquila: ‘Wonderful story. Two boys – united by friendship and a determination to pass through school entirely unnoticed -‘
Aquila 2: ‘Tom and Geoff’s adventures with Aquila, the Denebian escape pod they discovered in the first book, continue.’
The Portal  ‘I’ve now read six of Andrew Norriss’s books and I think I know what his work is about: every story I’ve read has been a drama of the good.’

Edoardo, Edwin and Oswald…


Click on this link Oswald Blog Tour Poster to see a larger clearer version and you will find me on Saturday! I am honoured and don’t feel up to the task but I shall do my best. I shall reveal more anon…

Visits from the Black Dog

By Andrew Norriss

Back in the days when I had regular visits from the Black Dog – the phrase Churchill used to describe his occasional bouts of depression – what really pigged me off was the lack of any objective reason for it all. If I had been in chronic pain, or unjustly imprisoned, you could understand it, but I faced nothing like that. In fact one of the worst bouts came when, on any rational basis, I appeared to have everything I had ever wanted. It is called, I am told, ‘endogenous depression’. Depression without any apparent cause.

Alan Garner, in a brilliant essay on the subject, describes how he was overcome one day by ‘the blankness of me and the blankness of the world’ and then spent two years, twelve hours a day, lying curled up on the settle in his kitchen, unable to do… anything. I remember my sense of guilty relief on reading that. How reassuring it was to know that others had been through something even worse than my own experience, and yet survived.

A lot of people go through life without ever meeting the Black Dog, but many of us get to know him all too well. It can start at an early age and is, I am told, affecting an increasing number of children in today’s pressured society. Not that I’d want to use it as a topic in any of my books of course, any more than Alan Garner did. I mean… who’d want to read a book about being depressed?

Andrew NorrissAnd then, to my considerable surprise, this was exactly what turned out to be a theme in Jessica’s Ghost. I hope that doesn’t put anyone off, because it’s not as grim as it sounds. If all I had done was express the thought that life can be a bit of a bugger at times, my story would not have been one I wanted to read myself. But, fortunately, my characters were smart enough to find a way out of the abyss and the book is mostly about how they did it.

You don’t have to be an expert on mental health to know there are no slick and easy answers to the problem of depression, but there do seem to be a few consistent signposts to the rescue ladder. One of them is the power of loving friendship. Alan Garner describes how his children would gently stroke the back of his neck as they passed through the kitchen. In my case, the rock on which I rested was my wife. With the young people in my story it’s the support they give each other because they’ve all been to the same dark places and know what it’s like.

It also helps to know that the clouds will not last forever. This may be difficult to believe at the time, but moods are like the weather and the sunshine will one day return. As it did for me. And as it did for Alan Garner, who woke one day to find his depression had vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived. And that is what he reminds himself, when he hears the ‘tinkle of ice bergs’ heralding its possible return. That the mood will pass.

It’s important to remember that.

It will pass.

Published in The Bookseller April 20, 2015.

Jessica's Ghost by Andrew Norriss

%d bloggers like this: