Imagine you’re an extremely short-sighted, slightly shambolic advertising copywriter sitting in a glass egg box of a building somewhere in central London. On the other side of the desk is your partner in crime, or more accurately, your art director of some 25 years standing. You’re survivors in an industry that gobbles up and spits out more creative teams than the average Joe has had hot dinners. But the writing is now on the wall. The art director has just handed in his notice to take early retirement and pursue his dream of becoming an artist in Germany. To add to your woes, the company has just made the decision to merge with another agency that would, according to the board of management, be an “exciting time for everyone.” To your ears, this is no more than a euphemism for wholesale redundancies—the countdown clock to your firing is now ticking away. Everyone can see that the merger of these two dying breeds is tantamount to the Hindenburg coming to the rescue of the Titanic. It’s doomed to failure.
The copywriter in this scenario is none other than myself and the year is 2009. As it turned out, I survived longer than I had anticipated—around three months if my memory serves me correctly. Yet it was a most satisfying three months because for once in all those years of writing for clients, I found myself writing for myself. While my art director furiously arranged the sale of his house and made plans for his exodus, I began writing my own piece of fiction aimed at young readers.
The story was inspired initially by my young son’s habit of peering through binoculars from his bedroom window at an old oak tree behind our house. The tree towers above the tree line and attracts all manner of birds including woodpeckers and owls whose haunting hoots can be heard of an evening. And like all works of fiction, once I began writing, the story started to evolve and take on a life of its own.
By the time I was eventually asked to vacate the premises and place all my worldly possessions into a cardboard box, the only item in that office of any worth to me was a fairly tatty manuscript entitled Sleeping with the Blackbirds. Strangely, the title for the story came to me before I’d written the first few pages. But it instinctively felt right.
The tale revolves around Roy Nuttersley, an ungainly 11-year-old schoolboy whose miserable life is made all the more miserable by his despicable parents who are so wrapped up in their own highly toxic relationship that they barely notice their own son. On top of this, Roy has to contend with Harry Hodges, the school bully and his cronies.
While Roy seeks a quiet life away from his feuding parents by feeding the birds in his back garden, Harry wants to inject a bit of excitement into his hum-drum life—and the idea of kidnapping Roy seems like the perfect answer.
Unbeknown to Roy, the birds, especially the intelligent blackbirds, are only too aware of his predicament, and hatch a series of ambitious plans to help their new friend. There is, however, a streak of self interest here, for the birds know that if Roy is kidnapped, he’ll be unable to continue feeding them come the winter months.
With this in mind, the blackbirds orchestrate a series of fiendishly cunning schemes. We are introduced to the less-than-intelligent Canadian Geese and see them go into training as a squadron of fearsome bird-pooing bombers. And we follow the antics of two agile magpies. But as with the best-laid plans, these elaborate schemes fail miserably to achieve their desired objectives.
Instead, their impact sets off a chain of events that spill out into the wider world and grab the attention of the national media including a particularly famous public relations mogul. All this sets in motion far reaching consequences for both Roy and his arch-tormentor, Harry Hodges—not to mention his hideous, money-grabbing parents. All of whom are forced to re-assess their own lives.
First and foremost, I wanted to write a story that would entertain and amuse kids. As for its underlying theme, I wanted to get across the idea that people can never be judged by their outward appearances. We are all shaped by our own circumstances. Roy and Harry are no exception and have their own backstories. People may do bad things, but those actions don’t always mean they are bad people. Over seventy years ago, a 13-year-old girl wrote: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Her name, of course, was Anne Frank.
"A delightful fairy tale that deals sensitively and compellingly with real modern-day issues." George Layton, author and screenwriter
"A real flight of fancy which will engage children in the plot and, at the same time, increase their understanding of real human relationships." lovereading.co.uk
"Wonderful images and thought-provoking scenes." Bramwell Tovey, composer and broadcaster
Revenue from preorders will go to finishing editing and design, as well as to the initial print-run and marketing of the U.S. edition of Sleeping with the Blackbirds.
100% of my royalties are going to cancer charities, specifically Cancer Research UK and The American Cancer Society.