This opportunity, offered to me by a boy named Kit at a school talk in Nelson, sums up why I write for kids. They have no fear and no filters. Their heads aren’t clogged with mortgages, work woes or what to cook for dinner. So they’re not allowed ice cream for dinner, or to stay up past ‘X-Factor,’ but nothing tops climbing trees, licking the bowl or having a fist fight with your best mate.

For the past ten years I’d focused on writing non-fiction travel (UK on a G-StringBowling Through India) as well as humour (Kiwi SpeakRugby Speak). In truth, I wanted to write middle-grade fiction, like my hero Roald Dahl. But first I had to meet someone who knew what they were doing. That someone was Joy Cowley, who I accosted one day at the Story Lines festival in Auckland. A few days later – when she’d read my stories – she agreed to be my ‘Yoda.’ She is a very generous and smart lady.

Then one day I had the idea for Shot, Boom, Score! It came while on the sideline at my daughters’ soccer match. Like many kids, sport played a major role in my childhood. As did rewards for doing well. Many a parent has bribed their kids with a ‘pie for a try’ or ‘movie tickets for a wicket.’ With Toby in Shot, Boom, Score! I wanted to take this theme to a new level. Here is a boy who struggles with school, but excels at sport. When his father sets him the GameBox V3 Challenge Toby thinks he’s hit the jackpot. Sadly, he hasn’t accounted for class bully Malcolm McGarvy – who does his best to ruin the party.

Kids can be ruthless critics. If something stinks they’ll let you know. So it was with a certain amount of relief when my nine-year-old daughter Sophie (who was having Shot, Boom, Score! read to her class) came home and said, ‘Dad, even the bullies love this story – and they never share their feelings!’ Here’s hoping many other kids enjoy the book.

P.S. I did end up dedicating a novel to Kit, but as of yet haven’t seen any money.

My sister used to have Magnum PI on her wall. I had Martin Crowe.

For years I watched New Zealand’s greatest batsman fascinate fan and opponent. I was 12 when I met Martin and his brother Jeff at the Basin Reserve. They were promoting their book ‘The Crowe Style.’ I drove with dad from our home in Raumati.

Seeing my sporting hero in the flesh was unforgettable. Even more so, Martin’s light pink Miami Vice-styled jacket. Sleeves rolled up. No one could mould him. No one would. It’s why we loved him.

marty25 years later my dream of bowling to Martin Crowe came true. Location: Indoor nets at Papatotoetoe Cricket Club during his attempted comeback. It was a highlights reel. I bowled pie after pie as the master repeatedly hooked me through mid-wicket. After all these years he still had it.

‘Come on, Brownie,’ he yelled. ‘Pitch it up!’

But he knew I was shit.

Fast forward a year and we shared this lunch on Ponsonby Road. Present: Pam Corkery, Tim Roxburgh, Martin and myself. We shared wine and talked a lot. Two ladies at the next table ordered a pizza the size of a wheel cover and barely touched it. ‘No, Pam!’ Martin laughed, knowing what was coming. ‘Don’t you dare. Pam, no.’

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Pam did not do as she was told. We got pizza. Martin buried his head in his hands and sighed.

During the Cricket World Cup I heard Martin speak many times. At Auckland Grammar for his book launch. A celebrity match at Clifton Cricket Club in Hawkes Bay. On our radio show. Each time he spoke he was lucid, insightful, gracious and funny. He knew time was short.

In the coming weeks there will be many things written about Martin: his sporting heroics, mentoring prowess and invention of T20 cricket. But I remember him differently. I remember him as someone who disproves the theory ‘Never meet your heroes.’

RIP, mate.

Bowling Through India was a was one of those trips where something happened almost every five minutes. Which of course became perfect fodder for a travel book. Stephen Singh of Birmingham wrote to me today and asked: ‘Have you ever feared for your life during any of your travel writing stints?’

There was the car crash in the game reserve in Namibia. (Our car had to be lifted from rocks by 15 burly locals.) And I seriously thought I’d end up in A and E boogie boarding down the Zambezi River.

This question, however, took me to the place where many others had lost their lives: a cemetery in Varanasi, India. Our cricket team, consisting of five New Zealanders, decided to challenge the local village to a game. It was a bizarre, beautiful experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shearing shed is quiet, dark and lifeless.

There is a faint whiff of sheep dung and human sweat. A few hours ago this wasn’t the case. Four men arrive at the office prepared for banter, repetition and savouries. Each begins a routine befit of a first-five about to kick a penalty.

Clive, a bear of a man with a whale of a belly, smiles a toothless grin and sharpens his blades. Thommo, born looking seventy, glances at the penned-up Merinos and pushes back his mop of grey hair. Stirling, surely the only shearer on the planet with such a regal handle, rummages through his bag and swaps new brown sneakers for well-worn moccasins. Randell, the gang’s raconteur and King Pin, asks how the fuck everyone is and isn’t it about time we got on with business.

The buzzing starts and stops only when the jug is boiled. Randell grabs his first victim as if it were he were a policeman breaking up a fight. The sheep struggles briefly, though realises his captive is a pro. Within minutes Randell is on the board. He flicks his counter and shoves the Merino outside, who scurries down the ramp with the conviction of a gorilla in a swimming pool.

Clive is not far behind, his first sheep now through his legs and free from blades and blood. No one is more grateful than Clive who, despite having arms like fence posts, looks no fitter for it. Once upright his routine begins: wipe face with towel, pull up trousers, whack counter with thumb, spit and wrangle new prey.

At smoko Clive tells us his sister puts tomato sauce on tomato sandwiches. Stirling used to shear in Scotland, don’t you know. The savouries are the first to go, followed by banana cake.

The wool classer tells everyone they’re behind schedule. No one seems bothered. No one likes the wool classer. People call him the Colonel behind his back.

Ricky the rousie sweeps around the men and flays their efforts, clean side down on the table. Randell tells Thommo he’s supposed to be shearing that thing, not rooting it. The clattering of hooves echo on the barn floor. Stirling finds the only Jaffa in the room. Surprised you’re not dead, he says. Doesn’t everyone get murdered up there? Been to Auckland, adds Clive. Went on the rollercoaster and McDonald’s in Manakau.

Randell uses his towel as a pillow against the shed wall. Sweat drips from noses.

Day done. The lack of buzzing is a blessing.

The shearing shed is quiet, dark and lifeless.

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It’s the age old question. Neil Gaiman says he finds his down the back of the garden in a box in a shed. I find if I cram my head with weird books, songs and conversation an idea will eventually arrive, often fully formed. [Tip: PANIC is never good, but not altogether bad as it forces you to think.]

This past Saturday I was about to go for a run. Instead I opted for a long, long walk. I was about to listen to my typical playlist: Bowie, The Arcs, Tony Allen. Instead I went for Mothership by Led Zepp, something I never listen to. I walked and walked, across Auckland’s new pink cycle bridge and through a cemetery. Sunlight hit the gravestones. ‘Black Dog’ burned my ears.

Ideas spilled out. 90 minutes later I had plot, character, title and all.

So. Switch up the norm. Amble inside that creepy shop. Drive a different route. Watch good movies. Watch shitty movies. Read that Norwegian thriller. Then relax. Empty your head. Fill it again. Repeat. Don’t force the issue. You’re a creative.

Your brain is ready. Give it a chance.

David_Bowie_-_ChangesOneBowieMy daughter Sophie was 2 months old when my Ellerslie neighbour said, ‘Fuck it, let’s go to the Cake Tin and see Bowie’ On that night it rained so much the Manawatu was flooded for weeks after. Bowie was the only band member who stepped out into the storm and sang. ‘Thanks for coming out on such a shitty night you crazy mothers.’

We stood metres from the man with two different coloured eyes who was my soundtrack to growing up in Raumati South. I always wondered how I’d feel when one of my heroes (we could be) died – and it feels pretty shit.

Thank you Mr. Jones.

 

Graham-article

I last saw Graham at his second home, Brazier’s Books on Dominion Road in Auckland. I wanted to show my girls a real bookshop. Graham was at the counter, sitting down with his guitar. He asked if he could sing us his new song. We obliged. It was an honour to hear him sing. If you’ve heard Billy Bold you’ll know this guy can write a tune. He could also quote poetry by almost anyone. Did the store have a copy of Under the Mountain, I asked. He did, a first edition. He told my daughter to honour it and treasure it. Tis a Kiwi classic, he said. As he was. RIP Graham.

Today’s random phone call, followed by an email, comes via America’s Funniest Home Videos. SIX YEARS AGO I submitted a video – as a joke. The Clearance Coordinator needs first/last names and email addresses for the following people seen in the clip ‘where everyone was jumping on an inflatable cushion to launch a baby doll.’

Man heard talking in background:
First boy jumping:
Kid in background:
Woman heard in background:
Older woman jumping:
Little girl running around:
Tall man jumping:

I said, ‘That’s very nice Hassan, what about payment to use the clip?’
‘Oh, no, sir you don’t need to pay us anything.’

If you feel bad you haven’t got back to anyone for a while, rest assured.
‪#‎sixyears‬

Two months after 9/11 I found myself in the UK singing for my supper. I lost a bet and had to door-to-door busk my way around the Motherland mid-winter and make enough money to fly home to New Zealand. The result was a book – UK on a G-String.

A number of years have passed. Yet recently the trip came up in conversation when a girl at a party asked me what it was like to appear on the Richard and Judy Show.

‘It was bloody great,’ I said. ‘There was the ride there in a brand new Merc as well as copious amounts of food and drink in the green room with Enrique Iglesias. But there was also the moment Richard and Judy duped me on national television.’

Here’s what happened. I sang on the couch for the famous couple, at the end of which they pulled out a crisp, white envelope. Richard smiled.

‘Here is an open return ticket to New Zealand,’ he said.
I was speechless.
‘So when are you going back?’ Judy asked.
‘Well, when’s it for?’ I asked.
‘It’s open,’ said Richard. ‘Anytime you like.’

I could not believe my luck. After knocking on doors from Wembley to Wales and having them repeatedly slammed in my face, here was a free ticket back to New Zealand!

Only it wasn’t.

As I write this I can’t quite believe what eventuated. As I said my goodbyes and had a drink in the green room, I boarded the train to Liverpool, the last place I had busked. And when I opened that envelope, a dirty old boarding pass fell out.

barley ticket g string

The good guys! The decent couple! The generous TV stars! I had been duped. 

The girl at the dinner party suggested I try and track down Graham Barley through Facebook, which I thought was a sound idea. Anyone know him?

Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Inspect your “hads” and see if you really need them.
MARTIN AMIS

The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK

The conscious mind is the editor, and the subconscious mind is the writer.
STEVE MARTIN

Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description.
C.S. LEWIS

I find that discussing an idea out loud is often the way to kill it stone dead.
J.K. ROWLING

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
TERRY PRATCHETT

Just do it.
N. IKE

(With thanks to @AdviceToWriters apart from No. 8)