Sunday, August 30, 2009

A reader writes...

Sometimes, I get an email which makes up for the lack of money, fame and everything else I've got from writing books. A few days ago, I heard from a Swansea fan who had read The Bromley Boys and had recommended it to a friend of his. The friend, Dave, then went away on holiday and managed to read it while he was away. As my correspondent reported: "he loved it so much he found himself trawling through various bromley fc websites when he got home....exactly as i had done." They had become Bromley fans, which was beyond brilliant. But this is not always a rewarding experience, as the next part of the email clearly illustrates. "when i got home from swansea's tuesday's nil-nil draw there was one email in my "in tray". it was from dave & it simply said "bromley lost 6-1 tonight".
This was possibly the most poignant email I've ever seen.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mentions in the press and Amazon rankings

The Bromley Boys got a nice mention in Monday's Independent and I was hopeful it would lead to a few sales. So I checked Amazon and was dismayed to see it falling. It continued throughout the day, ending up in the 70,000s.

The next morning, something changed. Suddenly, people were buying it and at one stage it was around 4000, which is probably the highest it has ever been. It started to taper off that evening and went back to normal.

This was the piece, from Sam Wallace's column:

I read The Bromley Boys this summer, Dave Roberts' book about his tragic adolescent obsession with Bromley FC and their disastrous 1969-1970 season. On one occasion the teenage Roberts paints "Ellis Must Go" on his T-shirt in protest against the club's inept manager Dave Ellis. As he prepares to reveal his T-shirt he realises that the person sitting next to him in a virtually empty stand is Ellis himself. It's the kind of story that reminds you of Danny Baker's 606 at its vintage best.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The kind of holiday photo I like to see.

Mrs Bron Hall and Mr James Hall of Auckland, New Zealand enjoying the sun and some quality reading material in Fiji (or somewhere like that).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The best publisher you've never heard of

There would, I imagine, be few people filling their shopping baskets exclusively with the latest offerings from, say, Harper Collins or Hodder and Stoughton. Brand loyalty amongst book lovers tends to be more about authors (many of whom are described as 'brands' these days). The honourable exception to this is the smaller, niche publishers - Salt and Bluechrome spring to mind - who are not only passionate about what they do, but also have a consistent feel to every book they publish, presumably because they reflect the tastes of just a handful of people, as opposed to committees and focus groups.

A few months ago I ordered a book called 'Believe in the Sign' by Mark Hodkinson, on the grounds that it had been grouped together with my latest book on Amazon, in the 'Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought This' section. Despite not really wanting to like something that had such a similar theme to my book, I found myself absolutely loving it. I had never heard of the publishers, Pomona, so decided to check out their website.

The first thing that struck me was that this was not a normal publisher. Hodkinson himself seems to run it and, with author royalty rates of 50%, it doesn't appear to follow any conventional publishing business model. But even more notable was the line-up of authors. It was some of the people who made me fall in love with reading in the first place - Hunter Davies, who wrote 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush', Barry Hines, whose 'A Kestrel For A Knave' became the film Kes, and Trevor Hoyle, writer of cult classic, Rule of Night.

This was incredibly exciting. So why had I never heard of Pomona? The answer, according to Hodkinson when I emailed him, was something faced by most publishers in their position. Distribution. They simply don't have the money to compete with the majors, who can (rumour has it) effectively GIVE books to stores and pay for them to be front-of-house.

I am now on my fourth Pomona book in a row and it's fantastic. A Barry Hines book, called Looks and Smiles, which is a love story about a mechanic and shoe shop assistant, set during the turbulent early 1980s. It's the kind of thing Penguin used to do - real, passionate and unflinchingly honest. Before that, I read Mark Hodkinson's latest novel, 'The Last Mad Surge of Youth', which would be on the bestseller list if there was any justice in the world.

Perhaps inevitably, Pomona seem to be experiencing financial difficulties. I don't know of any small independent that isn't. But they deserve to at least be checked out at

And no, I'm nothing to do with Pomona. I'm just a huge fan. And how many publishers can you say that about?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review - Death, Destruction and a Packet of Peanuts by Chris Pascoe

As someone who doesn't drink and has no interest in history, this book didn't seem particularly promising. A bloke goes on a massive pub crawl, while visiting sites of major battlefields of the English Civil War.
By the end of the second page, I was hooked. The author, Chris Pascoe, is a very funny writer - I defy anyone not to laugh at his story of the shed-eating dog or the American tourist rewriting history. But even more impressively, he brings the Civil War, a subject I've always associated with memorising dates at school, to full technicolour life. Some of the descriptions of battles are breathtaking and the characters mesemerising. Prince Rupert was my favourite, a man who didn't seem to have any concept of personal safety.
And then there was Pete. Pete was the author's traveling companion and a one-man disaster zone. His adventures are enough to make a book on their own, the highlights being an ill-advised toilet seat attack on a skinhead.
Throw in an incoherent Northerner called Dave and a dog of the same name, and you've got a book that I couldn't put down. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Two emails that made my day

Both came from people who had just finished reading The Bromley Boys.
The first was from Alan Soper, goalkeeper for Bromley in the season in which the book is set. He was one of my all-time heroes and the fact he enjoyed the book gave me an enormous thrill. He also put me right on one anecdote. I claimed that one of the players was sent off for pushing an opponent. Apparently, it wasn't so much a push - more a right hook to the jaw. He told me a couple of other brilliant stories, including the time the team had to train in the ice-covered car park one frosty night, as the chairman didn't want them on the pitch in case they "broke the grass".
The other email was from a teenage Ipswich fan who had also just finished the book. He finished by saying " I would just like to say thanks for a fantastic read and i hope you will be writing more great books soon; as you have done something in my mind which J.K.Rowling couldnt, made me fall in love with reading!".
What a fantastic day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Someone hasn't bothered reading e-luv.

My first book, e-luv, was frankly disgusting. All sorts of unsavoury sex things going on and a main character who wouldn't make a good role model for anyone. One reviewer gave it a "smut rating" of 8.5 out of 10. So I was a bit shocked to see a copy on eBay, described as a children's book. It really isn't. So, if you're thinking about buying it for your kids, I urge you not to. Buy it for yourself instead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Black Boxes

As this blog is meant to be about books in general and not just mine, I thought it was time for a review. I've just finished Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes and found it so powerful and unputdownable, it seemed the perfect place to start.

I have to say that It was not my usual kind of book. Far from it. I tend to go for implausible legal thrillers and sporting autobiographies. But I'd heard a lot about it and was in the mood for something different.

The story is Ana's, a woman who has retreated into a world of (unreliable?) memories. She has given up on her children and, by the end of the book, we know that she will be dead through an overdose of sleeping pills. The story is told from Ana's point of view, then from her daughter, Pippa's, diary and her son, Davie, who communicates with sign language, before going back to Ana. It's less complicated than I've made it sound.

It's as though the reader is eavesdropping on a one-way conversation in Ana's head as she retraces the path that took her to where she now finds herself. You know how it's going to end. But, and this is testimony to the author's skill, you keep hoping that her abusive ex will come along and rescue her.

Pippa's segment is heartbreaking. Smailes perfectly captures the voice of a neglected, unpopular 14 year old girl, who is used and abused by just about everyone in her life. The revelation of who wrote PIP IS AN UGLY FAT COW on a fence she passed on the way to school was so unexpected, I had to read it twice.

And if you can get through Davie's final message without being moved, you're doing better than me. An exquisite touch.

Given that I knew how it was going to end I was surprised when I realised, about an hour after finishing, that it was actually a happy ending of sorts. I recommend Black Boxes highly. It's intelligent, moving, uncomfortable and a real page-turner. Caroline Smailes is a seriously good writer.

The only complaint I have is that the cover, which shows a glamorous twenty-something model delicately swallowing a handful of pills, jars with the book's ultra-realistic tone.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Join the club

I was reading a piece on book promotion and one of the suggestions was to set up a Facebook group for your book. Now, being at the cutting edge of yoof culture, I went straight online and set up the group 'The Bromley Boys is a brilliant book and more people should read it'.

Is this going to lead to more sales? It's doubtful. But it was reassuring to see a couple of people who aren't related to me have already joined.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

There's a brilliant feature on Amazon that tells you what else people bought, when they got The Bromley Boys. Most make sense - The Damned United, Modern Football is Rubbish ( both fine books, by the way) and the Non-League Club Directory 2009.
But then it all gets a bit odd. A Billy Bragg CD, another by the B52s and finally Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana? I had to find out more, so I read some of the reviews - such as this from M.Weild ('Metamorphisis-17):
"Every track sung by Miley aka. Hannah Montana is amazing!!! :) My favs r Best of both Worlds, The Other Side Of Me, I Got Nerve & If We Were A Movie. "
I urge you to buy this NOW. Together with The Bromley Boys, obviously.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The importance of the right title.

Is 'The Bromley Boys' the right title for the book? I ask this because it seems to have been putting a lot of people off reading it. Mainly those living outside the Bromley area. Based on emails I've had from readers, I'd guess that around 90% of sales have been in South East London. And I think I can see why it would be hard to sell in the rest of the country. I'm not convinced I'd be interested in a book called, say, The Bognor Regis Boys, however good the reviews.
So..any thoughts? Any ideas on a better title?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A concerted attempt to get Waterstone's interested in my book.

I had what seemed to be a brilliant idea. Write to Waterstone's branches in towns with non-league teams, pointing out that they should stock the book on the grounds that the locals would be able to relate to it. Admittedly, the heading to my emails "Local Interest Book" may have been slightly misleading.

Around a hundred of these were sent to branches covering the country from the uppermost part of Cumbria to the South Coast. I then sat back, waiting to hear about orders pouring in.

I am still waiting. Only two branches have replied. Each has ordered two copies.

I am sensing I need a new strategy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why you should buy this book

I am often amazed at the generosity of writers towards someone who would be struggling to make the Z List, (i.e. me). Case in point, Charlie Connelly. He was kind enough to drop me a line after reading The Bromley Boys, saying how much he enjoyed it. He seemed a nice enough fellow, so I thought I'd push my luck and ask him for a quote I could use for publicity. Now, despite having a new book of his own to promote, And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British and Irish History, he got back to me quickly with the following:

"The Bromley Boys is the best football memoir I have ever read. Where Dave Roberts truly succeeds is in making his experiences chime with anyone who grew up as a football fan anywhere and in any era - Dave's Bromley FC in the sixties is my Charlton Athletic in the eighties; the experiences are timeless and universal. He relates his story with irresistable charm and sharp self-deprecating wit, and at the turn of every page I found myself shouting, "me too! me too!" You don't have to be a Bromley supporter to love this book. You don't even have to have heard of Bromley. Dave Roberts is every small boy in every town who ever loved a football team, and The Bromley Boys deserves to be a classic."

As if that wasn't enough, he wrote to some of his media contacts asking them to help give The Bromley Boys some publicity. Nice or what? Clearly, you should now buy his book - it was Radio 4's Book of the Week recently and has had great reviews.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Amazon nightmare

I had been feeling pretty good about the book recently. Great reviews, some lovely emails from readers and a good December sales-wise. Then I made the mistake of checking my Amazon ranking, confident it would be around the 3000 mark, which is where it was last time I looked.
As you can see for yourself, I was a long, long way off. The Bromley Boys has fallen all the way down to 185,944th place . How could that be? Did this mean that NOT ONE PERSON had bought it from Amazon ALL YEAR.
I even considered buying a copy myself, just to bring the ranking down a bit, but then realised I had nothing left on my credit card.
Please, someone. Buy a copy and put me out of my misery.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The great Bromley Boys traffic light controversy.

There is an incident in The Bromley Boys where I am being chased by skinheads, on my way home from watching Bromley. I am on my bike, they are on foot. I reach the traffic lights at Shortlands Station, which have just turned red. Luckily, they soon turn green and I make my escape.
Not so, according to an email I received this week. My correspondent tells me that this was simply not credible as "that particular sets of lights took an extraordinary long time to change." He even offered evidence to support his argument, saying that they remained red for "precisely the duration of 'That'll be the day' by Buddy Holly, 1min 40secs."
As a final assault on the veracity of my memory, he concludes: "So I fancy the lights were already red when you first set eyes upon them."
Pedantic? I'd like to say so, but as the writer became my best friend a few years after the book was set, I suspect his recollection is better than mine.