The Author Revealed
Justin secured his first book publishing contract shortly after graduating from Warwick University, when he was commissioned by Usborne Publishing to contribute to their bestselling Puzzle Adventure series. Published in 1992, The Pyramid Plot remains in print over twenty years later. Justin’s next venture into print came in the mid 1990s he wrote (under a pseudonym) three short novels featuring teenage vampires, which were published by Penguin Books. These are not currently in print and Justin intends for them to stay that way.
In 2005, Justin published the first in a six-book sequence, VAMPIRATES. The idea had come to him as a “Eureka!” moment, when “the word ‘Vampirates’ just fell into my head”. That moment proved genuinely life-changing as Justin soon found himself with a six-book deal, with Simon & Schuster in the UK, and with publishers for the books in 25 languages and 35 countries worldwide. Justin was featured in the Sunday Times Magazine as “the Next Big Thing” and in Waterstone’s Harry Potter Report as the natural successor to J K Rowling. He undertook extensive tours of the UK and Ireland and further afield – France, the Netherlands, Sweden, the USA and Australia. In between travels, he was able to keep in regular touch with his growing readership through his website, Twitter and Facebook.
Justin describes the experience of being at the heart of the VAMPIRATES sequence as being “a rollercoaster ride with added adrenaline”. “The years just whizzed by, from one book and tour to the next, with barely a breath or a moment to take stock.” Looking back now, highlights include winning the Solihull Children’s Book Award on the day of his dad’s birthday (Justin’s beloved father died the week that the book was first published); being asked to write an extra VAMPIRATES adventure for World Book Day 2007; the party Simon & Schuster hosted to celebrate 100,000 sales in the UK of the first book DEMONS OF THE OCEAN; randomly walking into a bookstore in Barcelona to find a waist-high stack of his books; the tours in the UK and abroad and hearing from readers as far flung as Argentina and Tokyo – not least when they launched an online petition for a VAMPIRATES movie! Another definite highlight was the stage adaptation of DEMONS OF THE OCEAN by Scene Productions, which toured the UK extensively through 2011 and 2012. The sixth and final (for now) novel in the VAMPIRATES sequence, IMMORTAL WAR, was published in 2011. Dedicated ‘Nocturnals’ frequently petition Justin to write a new VAMPIRATES novel.
Before resting the VAMPIRATES sequence, Justin knew that his “next big idea” was already simmering away. On tour in Wales in the autumn of 2009, Justin had met an inspirational librarian, Hedd ap Emlyn, who chaperoned him for the day and (having considerable experience with horses) gave him some useful advice for Grace and Johnny’s midnight horseback ride in VAMPIRATES 5: EMPIRE OF NIGHT. Hedd (pronounced ‘Haze’) also told Justin that his daughter was taking part in a competition that day to win ‘The Poet’s Chair’. Over lunch, between school visits, Hedd explained that this term harked back to the court structures in pre-Medieval Wales, where the Poet was one of a number of key officers to the ruling Prince. “Over lunch that day,” Justin recalls, “I knew I had the seed of my next idea.” After his return to London, Justin began exchanging emails with Hedd. “He sent me through copies of some useful background documents and recommended books for me to look at, including THE LAW by Hwyel Dda.”
Originally, Justin intended to set the new book in a specific time and place. “After all that world-building in VAMPIRATES, it felt really appealing to me to work within some defined parameters,” he says. “But as I began to develop, and play with, the idea, I realised it would benefit from the freedom of being set in a parallel world and time. Before I knew it, I was back in the business of world-building.” And what a world it is! In ALLIES & ASSASSINS, Justin transports readers to the court of Archenfield, where the ruler – Prince Anders – has been assassinated. Chaos, confusion and conspiracy are all rife. It falls to Anders’ younger brother and heir Prince Jared, at the tender age of sixteen, to pick up the reins of power, solve his brother’s murder and make safe the princedom.
Although Justin did not set the book specifically in Wales, he has not only drawn on its history but also its landscape to inspire his world-building here. “I spent a week in Snowdonia in 2012, travelling around and taking loads of photos and notes of lakes, forests and castles of all shapes and sizes, to help me get a better sense of Archenfield in my head.”
Another important influence on ALLIES & ASSASSINS is Scandinavia and visits that Justin made to Norway and Sweden. “When you’re building a world from the ground up, you want that world to be unique but to have a defined sense of place. You’ll see Welsh and Scandinavian influences here, ranging from the landscape to the names of key characters. But I’ve woven in other influences too and will continue to do so as the story moves forward.”
As readers have come to expect from Justin’s writing, ALLIES & ASSASSINS has a large, richly-drawn cast of characters, including the warring members of the royal family and the Council of Twelve, who assist Prince Jared in ruling. “One of the things I most enjoy about writing novels is working with characters, especially ones with a bit of edge. It was a challenge for me, moving away from the familiar cast of VAMPIRATES and starting over. I hope that my readers, those familiar with my previous work and those coming to it afresh here, will enjoy the range of characters in ALLIES & ASSASSINS.”
The first book in the sequence is published in the UK in September 2013 and in the USA in Spring 2014. Translation deals have already been signed with Brazil, Germany and Poland. Justin is about to begin work on the sequel, which will follow in 2014.
Justin joined Puffin Books as a junior publicist in 1992. He took to the job like the proverbial duck to water and enjoyed working with leading creative talent including Janet and Allen Ahlberg, Raymond Briggs, Anne Fine, Dick King-Smith, Philip Pulllman and Roald Dahl’s literary estate. He says his most glamourous moment was probably chaperoning Isla Fisher at the peak of her “Home & Away” fame, whilst his most surreal experience “would be a tie between meeting Barney the dinosaur and driving through Brighton with an inflatable Giant Peach protruding from the back of my Triumph Vitesse convertible”. In 1996, Justin departed Penguin to become Children’s Publicity Director at Random House, continuing to work with some of the most prestigious names in the literature world. In 1998, he set up business as the UK’s first dedicated children’s books publicist. He is widely acknowledged as being one of the best book publicists in the business. Landmark clients include Anthony Horowitz, who Justin has worked with since 2001, and Roald Dahl’s literary estate, with whom the association goes back one year further to 2000. As an independent publicist, Justin has continued to work with a starry list of authors, including Peter Ackroyd, David Almond, Sir Quentin Blake, Julie Burchill, John Connolly, Damian Dibben, John Grisham, Shirley Hughes, David Levithan, Louise Rennison, Rick Riordan and the Narnia literary estate.
In 2011, Justin added training to his CV, jointly founding the company AuthorProfile with Phillip Norman. AuthorProfile offers training focused squarely on the needs of contemporary authors, ranging from media training to developing online strategies to devising and delivering compelling events. Training is delivered both in group sessions – hosted by publishers and agents – or as one-2-one coaching.
Born in Hertfordshire, Justin attended St. Albans School before studying English and American Literature at the University of Warwick. He now lives in Crouch End, North London with his partner and their two large and energetic dogs. With his exciting and demanding work life, Justin doesn’t have a lot of “free time” but he has recently developed a passion for cycling. He also enjoys taking long walks with the dogs in the local area, including Highgate Woods and Hampstead Heath, both of which were a significant inspiration for Archenfield and the world of ALLIES & ASSASSINS.