Friday, 14 June 2013

Ah, Grasshopper... by Tony Bradman

The nicest thing ever to have happened to me in my writing career has just occurred. My son Tom and I have won the Historical Association's Young Quill Award for the short novel we wrote about the sinking of a rather well known ship. The book is called Titanic: Death on the Water (A&C Black) and was published in April last year, in time for the centenary of the disaster.

There are several reasons to be pleased. Of course, it's always good to win an award, but Tom and I were particularly chuffed because the winning book is chosen by young readers. The book was pretty hard to do as well - we were asked to write it by Kate Paice, our editor at A&C Black, and there was a very tight deadline to meet. Cue lots of moaning, complaining and general harumphing from the writers... Well, all right then, from the older partner in the writing team, especially as the deadline got closer and closer. So it's good to feel rewarded for such a difficult task, although I think we both felt very proud of the story by the time we finished it.

The main reason to be pleased though is that I can indulge in some paternal as well as some writerly pride. The truth is that I started training Tom almost from the day he was born to take over the family business. All those years of reading stories to him, of allowing him to watch inappropriate TV series and films while I droned on about the plot and characters and said things like 'Watch out for this bit, it's a great way of building tension' had finally begun to pay off. Titanic: Death on the Water was actually our eighth joint production, so it's clearly taken us a while to hit our stride, but I think we're there now. I hope so, anyway, as we have two more books to write (and if you're reading this Kate and Saskia, yes, we're working away at them, honest!).

So how does this kind of collaboration work, you might ask? I see it as the kind of relationship the old wise priest had with the young Kwai-Chang Kane, played by David Carradine in the legendary 70s TV series Kung-Fu. Whenever the young man needed advice on how to solve a problem, or how to live his life, he would seek it from the old man, who would say... 'Ah, grasshopper...' and then dispense his words of wisdom ('grasshopper' being his affectionate nickname for the young man). However, I was rather surprised to discover that Tom sees it all a bit differently. Apparently he thinks I'm autocratic ('I hate it when you change the plot without telling me,'), slow ('You've been working on that paragraph for days!'), and irritatingly cunning in the way that all veteran writers learn to be ('We won't tell them just yet that we're going to deliver late, OK?' If you're still reading this Kate and Saskia, just joking, honest!). I might even admit to some of these failings, but it all seems to work out in the end - after all, we have won a prize. Whether or not it's the case that an old man's fading career has been saved by his younger, better-looking and more energetic son is something only posterity can tell.

Tom has actually been teaching English in China (not far from the Shaolin Temple where Kung-Fu had its origins - although I've probably got that wrong and he'll give me a hard time now) for the last couple of years, so large parts of our prize-winning book depended on emails whizzing round the planet. I have to say that's pretty irritating - I used to like it when I could send him upstairs to his room to do his homework. Now I have to depend on the vagaries of Skype whenever I want to tell him that I've changed the plot again, and could he have the next chapter done by the end of the week, please? Still, I'll admit it's a lot of fun working with him, and we do have plans for lots more stories. 'Ah, grasshopper... to win more prizes, you must obey me in everything I say, especially when it comes to working out the plot...'

You can find out more about the Historical Association's Young Quills Award here:


Penny Dolan said...

Congratulations Tony and Tom, and such a nice account of how you work together. You sound like a lucky & happy man!

I was almost wondering if you'd thought of hiring Tom and his bright young mind out?

But, on the other hand, after the years of background work you put in, you're the one deserving of that lively, independent Grasshopper.

Emma Barnes said...


I'm writing a historical for the same publisher at the moment, so particularly interested to read this post. I'm really enjoying researching the period - and the chance to look into my own family history - but it's quite intimidating, taking on the voice of a character from a different time.

Tom Bradman said...

I don't seem to remember many of our, ahem, story conferences being quite as sedate, ahem, ahem, as those at Shaolin, but we definitely had some fun! Working with my old man, or Bradman the Elder, if you prefer, is a joy. We're definitely on the same wave-length after all those years. (Where he mentions "allowing [me] to watch inappropriate TV", he means suggesting I sit and watch it with him.)

I'm proud of the book, and I'm embarassingly, even excessively, proud of the award (just ask my sisters). But I'm mostly proud of being one half of Bradman & Son.

And Dad, I wouldn't say autocratic... just a bit stubborn at times. You usually see reason in the end.

Kate Paice said...


(And congratulations again on the award - we're all enormously proud!)

Pippa Goodhart said...

How nice to have an apprentice! Well done to both Bradmans (or should that be Bradmen?).

Heather Dyer said...

Congratulations both!