Interview with Des Hunt

Red Edge is the fantastic new book by one of NZ’s most prolific authors, Des Hunt. I’ve read many of Des’ books over the years and I love them because they’re set in New Zealand and focus on our unique wildlife. Des’ books are always fast-paced and action-packed.

After reading Red Edge, set in my home town of Christchurch, I wanted to ask Des some questions about the story. Check out my interview to learn about the inspiration for Red Edge, how Des decides what wildlife will feature in his stories and his secret to writing a page-turner.

As someone who has grown up in Christchurch and has lived around the area where much of the story is set I feel like you’ve really captured my home town. Did you visit Christchurch and some of the locations when researching the book?

I visited Christchurch on four different occasions over a period of three years: two to visit schools and two to do specific research such as visiting Riccarton Bush. I searched the suburbs that had been most affected looking for one that would best suit the ideas I was having for the story. I chose Avonside because I found several houses around there that hadn’t been repaired – the Horton House in the story is based on a couple of those.

Cassi and Quinn are both kids that were young when the earthquakes occurred. They are still affected by them, even now, 9 years later. Have you met kids like Cassi and Quinn when you’ve visited schools?

Yes. That was always the main impetus for the story. At the time I was doing workshops where I asked the children to write a short backstory of themselves. Almost every one of those featured the earthquakes, particularly emphasising the number of houses they’d lived in, and the multiple schools attended. To me it was clear that growing up with instability in home and school was having an affect on these kids, especially their relationships with others. They would have had to make and break friends so regularly that it was sure to influence their dealings with others.

This is your first time writing a female lead character. Did Cassi’s character come easily to you?

I was surprised how it came together so readily. Probably my contact with readers during school visits helped, as girls are usually more willing to share emotions and personal information than boys. She’s a character that I got to like a lot, and I’m hoping she’ll appear in some more stories.

Matiu the tow-truck driver is one of my favourite characters in Red Edge. He helps Cassi and Quinn when they need it the most. If you could have someone handy like Matiu to help you out in a tricky situation who would you choose?

I’d choose someone just like Matiu. They would need to have good sense of humour, be willing to help people, work hard, and have a positive outlook on life. It would need to be somebody much younger than me as most of the problems I experience are age related. I know there is no shortage of such people in Aotearoa as I meet many of them during my travels.

Your books often focus on criminal activity and the kids who bring the criminals down. Do real events inspire your stories?

Very much so – I am an avid collector of news stories. As an example, the story of the lunchbox full of dead lizards in Red Edge came from a newspaper report in August 2017. That got me thinking of using wildlife smugglers as the bad guys in the story. There have also been several court cases involving scammers targeting ’quake victims. I try to get into the heads of these sorts people in the hope that I can make my antagonists more real.

Red Edge is a tense, action-packed read. What is your secret to writing stories that make readers want to keep turning the pages?

One of the things I don’t like reading in a book is lengthy descriptions of people or clothing or buildings or towns – in fact, almost any description of a thing. This has carried over to my writing, where I give very few descriptions of faces or places, unless they are relevant to the story. I like my readers to get a feel for a person through what they do and think, along with some idea of the locations through what happens there.  This helps increase the pace of the story. Then, after the first draft is finished, I start cutting out anything that doesn’t contribute to one of the following: developing a character, progressing the story, contributing to the climax. I also make sure there is a good mix of slow- and fast-paced parts, so the reader can catch breath at times, especially after major action scenes.

Many of your books feature our wonderful New Zealand wildlife, including Albatross, Huia and Weta. How do decide which animal will feature in each story?

This is often dictated by the location and the animals that are found nearby. Giant wētā were always in my mind for a story and, at first, I couldn’t see how it would fit in with Christchurch. I did visit Mt Somers near Methven to look for wētā, but I found it difficult to include the location in the story. Then the Kaikoura earthquake occurred and I knew there were species around there, so giant wētā became the main animal in the story. I like writing about our endemic animals as many of them are pretty special zoologically. Also, in the back of my mind is the thought that people who have respect for animals are good guys, and those who abuse them are bad.

You are especially good at creating the villains in your stories. Who is your favourite fictional villain?

I’ve been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing since I was about 11, so Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories is my number one choice. Amongst more recent writing I would choose Lord Voldemort from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In my own stories I particularly like the gang leader Skulla from Cry of the Taniwha.

Check out my review of Red Edge and get a copy from your library or bookshop now.

Interview with Jonathan King

Jonathan King’s first graphic novel for children, The Inkberg Enigma, has just been released. It is a brilliant graphic novel filled with mystery, adventure and secrets. You can read my full review here on the blog.

I really love The Inkberg Enigma (it’s one of my favourite children’s graphic novels of 2020) so I wanted to ask Jonathan my burning questions about the story. Read on to find out about Jonathan’s inspirations for the story, the process of creating a graphic novel and some of the Easter Eggs you can find in the story.

Reading The Inkberg Enigma made me feel like I was 10 again, reading Tintin. Did you set out to create the kind of story that you would have loved as a kid?

Yes, I absolutely did. Tintin was huge for me as a kid: The Black Island was the first one I read, but I devoured them all over the years. I knew from the outset that I wanted it to be an adventure with fantastic elements. I think I decided fairly early that it wouldn’t be a globe-trotting kind of thing – that Tintin often did – but digging into the secrets and corners of one location. That’s what I love about stories – that can show us how our own world has hidden wonders.

The Inkberg Enigma is set in the fictional town of Aurora. Being a Christchurch local I immediately recognised Lyttelton in your illustrations. Did Lyttelton inspire the setting?

Lyttelton – and Diamond Harbour access the water – definitely the primary inspiration for the setting. I have family in Diamond Harbour and Lyttelton, and have spent quite a bit of time there. I love the self-contained nature of the two of them (in my story there’s no Christchurch just over the hill). And I’ve always had a connection to places by the sea – with their attached nautical influence, like Lyttelton has, of hotels, seamen’s union buildings, antique shops with diver’s helmets in the window (which I really did see in Lyttelton!). Other influences are Cannery Row in Monterey in California – where John Steinbeck set his book of that name — Astoria in Oregon (where The Goonies was filmed) and, for the castle, Larnach Castle in Dunedin.

I love that the main character in The Inkberg Enigma, Miro, sells off treasures from his attic to get money to buy books. Is this something you would have done as a kid?

I don’t know if I would go quite as far as Miro does! But I do remember what it felt like to be obsessed with things – like Star Wars figures or comics – and doing anything to complete collections. 

Mr Hunter is one of the creepiest characters in the story. I’ve been wondering where he got his huge scar from?

I think Mr Hunter has been involved in some very dangerous situations at sea over the years – but ignored or buried them, to continue the regime of (what they think is) control over the sea and the creatures below. I think there’s a climate change metaphor in there too …

The kids at my school often complain about how long it takes a creator to release a new graphic novel. To put it in to perspective for them can you explain the process of creating The Inkberg Enigma and how long it took you to pull the story together.

It takes a long time for new ones to come out because it takes a loooooong time to draw them! Unlike commercial monthly comics – which usually have a writer, a penciller, an inker, a colourist, a letterer – a graphic novel is usually the work of just one or two people. It took me about three years from start to finish. Part of that was finding the story. I had the world and the kids in the story pretty early … but the story they were in and the relationship between them took a while to find; I made a false start and pencilled / roughed about 40 pages … that I abandoned. But once I cracked the relationship between the kids, the stay was clear. Then I just had to draw it all. Certainly a detailed, clear line style slows things down. I’d love to try a looser (faster!!) style in the future.

Did you experiment much with the character designs before settling on their final look?

I think their look came quite quickly. Learning how to draw it consistently took a little while longer!

The name of the bookshop in the story is a nod to your film adaptation of Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain that you wrote, directed and produced. Are there other Easter eggs for readers to look out for in The Inkberg Enigma?

I’m thrilled you spotted that. Yes, there are others: a number of Tintin props, I think. The books in the bookshop Miro looks at are favourites of mine. The museum building is based on the jailhouse in Goonies (a real building in Astoria!) I’m sure there’s other odds and ends!

How does your film background influence your comics?

I’m not sure. Probably it does n terms of story structure – something I’ve spent a long time thinking about. I probably think it terms of close ups and wide shots … and even the ‘lens’ that I frame images in: a wide angle lens sees something differently from a ‘long’ lens. Certainly telling the story with pictures is as important as words. 

Would you like to make a movie of The Inkberg Enigma?

All the way through making I didn’t think that I did: it was only ever meant to be a comic. Now that it’s finished, it’s its own thing … yeah, I kinda would actually! 🙂 

There are so few comics and graphic novels published in NZ for kids and teens, even though these books are some of the most popular with kids in our libraries. Do you have plans to write more for this age group?

I’m sure one of the reasons that there are so few is that for something takes so long, it’s really hard to get enough income to justify the time it takes (though I must acknowledge the support I ad from Creative NZ). Some cool local creators are Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society books, Ant Sang’s Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas, Roger Langridge’s Abigail & The Snowman and, of course, bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne’s Terry Teo books. 
I would love to write more for this age group. Having done a book that took years to draw, I’d love to write book that’s just words – a mystery perhaps! And, yes, before long I’ll do another graphic novel. 

Check out my review of Jonathan’s graphic novel, The Inkberg Enigma. Available now from Gecko Press.

Interview with Frida Nilsson, author of The Ice Sea Pirates

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Photograph by Ellinor Collin

One of my recent favourite books has been The Ice Sea Pirates, written by Swedish author, Frida Nilsson and published in English for the first time by the wonderful Gecko Press.  The Ice Sea Pirates is an adventure story full of pirates, wolves, mermaids, frozen landscapes and a whole lot of heart.  You can read my review here on the blog.

The Ice Sea Pirates was still on my mind several days after finishing the story and I was lucky enough to be able to ask Frida Nilsson some questions.  Read on to find out what inspired Frida to write The Ice Sea Pirates, which story she would jump in to, and how she comes up with the names for her characters.

  • What inspired you to write The Ice Sea Pirates?

The inspiration mainly came to me shortly after my first child was born. Until then, my books featured another character, they had much more humour in them and were not classic sagas. When I became a mother it was suddenly more important to me to try and make some sort of change with my books. A lot of us are worried, I think, about the conditions in our world, with poverty and pollution, the death of many species, the plastic in all the oceans. My story about Siri is my way of questioning how we live our lives. We constantly take more than we need and in the long term, that’s not going to work.

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  • The Ice Sea Pirates is one of those books that I felt I wanted to jump in to.  If you could jump in to one book and be part of the story which one would you choose?

I think I would choose Charlie and the chocolate factory (and if possible I would bring my kids along since they are absolutely crazy about chocolate)

Siri is incredibly brave and determined and I’m sure children will wish that they could be like her.  Which book characters did you wish you could have been when you were growing up?

I hope that the children that read the book will NOT want to be as brave as her. Children characters in sagas like this are often “thrown out” on adventures that are far too dangerous for a real child – and this is how it should be I think. I hope that Siri’s journey can inspire children in another way.  I hope they find the courage to question the things that are wrong with how we “overuse” our planet and how the stronger use the weaker.

But, to answer the question: One character that I envied a lot was Lisa in Astrid Lindgren’s books about the Bullerby children (The children of Noisy Village). I grew up far out in the “dark woods” with no neighbourhood children or siblings at all, and sometimes I would miss the company of people of my own age. I envied Lisa simply because she lived in a village with a lot of children that she could play with all day. And best of all: Lisa did NOT go on any dangerous journeys. Her everyday life and play were adventure enough.

  • Captain Whitehead is the terrifying pirate captain in The Ice Sea Pirates.  Who is your favourite pirate from history or fiction?

Well since I’m a big fan of the Aardman films I must answer the Pirate Captain in the movie ‘The Pirates! In an adventure with scientists’ (released as Pirates! Band of misfits in some parts of the world). If I’m not mistaken this film is based on a book with the same title, although I haven’t read it.

  • The crew of The Sea Raven have some fantastic names.  How did you come up with their names?

I found a list on the internet of old French soldiers names and I used a lot of them, but translated them into Swedish first of course. Then I just used my imagination for the rest.

  • Peter Graves has translated your story into English.  How do you work with translators to ensure they capture the essence of your stories?

In this particular case I could actually read the translation before it went to print. It’s not quite as easy when it comes to a Czech or a Russian text. It was a true pleasure to read Peter Graves translation. I think he did a fantastic job. When a foreign publisher takes on one of my books I must put my trust in the whole “crew” that works with the title (translator, editor, illustrator etc) because they all know their country and their readers much better than I do.

Make sure you grab a copy of The Ice Sea Pirates from your library or bookshop now.

Interview with Alan Brough

Alan Brough high-res 3 credit James PenlidisAlan Brough is the author of the crazy, laugh-out-loud new book, Charlie and the War Against the Grannies.  Alan is a Kiwi who now lives in Australia and he has worked as an actor, director, musician and a dancer before he became a writer.  Charlie and the War Against the Grannies is his first book for children and I certainly hope he writes many more.

I had a few questions I wanted to ask Alan and he has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out about weird granny behaviour, the things you need to have in a war against grannies and how Alan came to write his crazy story.

  • What inspired you to write Charlie and the War Against the Grannies?

One morning I was watched a middle-aged man in a beaten up old car deliver my newspaper and I wondered whether kids did paper round anymore. That afternoon I saw a granny delivering pizza menus and, for some reason, I came up with the idea that a boy tries to get a paper round but can’t because all the deliveries in his neighbourhood are controlled by an evil cabal of violent grannies.

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  • What is your strangest grannie experience?

My grandmother had a glass eye. The idea of it completely freaked me out. One morning at the breakfast table she took her glass eye out and rolled it across the table to me to try and make me feel more comfortable about it. It didn’t work.

  • Did you have a paper round when you were a kid?

No. I couldn’t cope with the early mornings.

  • What are the 3 most important things you need to fight a war against grannies?

Shortbread laced with tranquillisers, a hairnet full of false teeth and questionable morals.

  • Charlie and Hils have an awesome secret code called Flush Latin for communicating secretly from a toilet when they get in trouble. Did you have your own secret code when you were a kid? 

Hell yeah. I still love codes. I used to make up all sorts of secret codes. I loved writing invisible messages in lemon juice, I had secret drop-offs for swapping secret information with other agents and I was never without my ‘KnowHow Book of Spycraft.’

  • You’ve been an actor and a director as well as an author. How different is comedy on the page than comedy on the screen?

I suppose the essential difference is that comedy on the screen can be done purely with images. You can tell a whole joke without words. Whereas comedy on the page – for me at least – is all about words. Their order, the way they sound and even the way they look.

  • Charlie is hilarious and I’m sure it is going to have kids rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter. Who are your comedy idols when it comes to writing?

Thank you. I’m really pleased and proud that you think Charlie is hilarious. As far as comedy writing idols go I love Douglas Adams, Dorothy Parker, Evelyn Waugh, Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka (he’s really funny), Kyril Bonfiglioli, Nancy Mitford and Ronald Hugh Morrieson (born and bred in my hometown of Hawera.)

Interview with Mark Smith about The Road to Winter

Mark Smith is the author of the amazing new YA book, The Road to Winter.  I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population. Check out my review here.

I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Mark about The Road to Winter.  Read on to find out what he couldn’t live without, what inspired him to write The Road to Winter and what books you should read next if you like his book.

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  • What inspired you to write The Road to Winter?

The Road To Winter (TRTW) evolved from a short story I wrote in 2013, entitled Breathing In and Out. When I decided to turn it into a novel I was determined to write a page turner that would engage younger and older readers alike. It is largely an adventure story told through the eyes of a sixteen year old boy – but it touches on a number of very relevant issues, including conflict, attitudes to violence, relationships, loyalty and the treatment of asylum seekers.

  • The Road to Winter is set in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out a significant part of the population.  Would you survive if you were in Finn’s position?

I’d like to think I would! The advice when writing is to “write what you know” and Finn’s understanding of the environment – and how to survive in it – is largely my own. He hunts, fishes, grows veggies and trades food. I think the hardest test Finn faces is the isolation – which, of course, is broken when Rose arrives in town in need of his help.

  • What is one thing that you absolutely couldn’t live without?

Coffee! I actually thought of weaving that idea into the story somewhere but it didn’t make the cut. When you are creating a dystopia there are lots of these decisions you need to make – what’s still there and what’s not. In TRTW though, I deliberately didn’t take a lot of time to explain the dystopia because I wanted it to be a character driven novel, rather than one dealing just with the consequences of living in a post-apocalyptic world.

  • Finn has his dog Rowdy but who would you want by your side if you were in Finn’s situation?

Finn feels the loss of his family very deeply and I certainly would too. If I were forced to survive in a world like his, I’d want my family there with me to help!

  • What is your favourite survival story and why?

As an outdoor education teacher I’m a huge fan of adventure non-fiction. I consume books about survival in extreme circumstances – Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void. Simpson’s story is an incredible tales of survival. I’d also recommend the account of Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey of survival in Antarctica in 1914 and Tim Cope’s On The Trail of Genghis Khan.

  • The Road to Winter is your first book.  How was your road to publication?

By 2014 I’d had more than twenty short stories published in magazines, journals, anthologies and newspapers in Australia. I learned my craft as a short story writer but I always wanted to write a novel. It took me 18 months to get the manuscript of TRTW ready to submit to a publisher. I chose Text because they have a strong reputation for supporting new writers. They loved the manuscript and offered me a three book deal. The sequel to TRTW is due for release in May 2017. I know the road to publication is a long and difficult one for most writers and I am incredibly thankful that mine was relatively smooth – but, in the end, it’s the quality of the writing that will decide whether your work is published or not.

  • The Road to Winter is marketed as YA but it has the look of a gritty adult thriller.  Did you write it for a particular audience or just because you wanted to tell this story?

It’s a really good question! I didn’t consciously write a YA novel – I wanted to tell a particular story in a particular way – through the eyes of a sixteen year old boy. I do think that we often categorise books by their protagonist rather than by what the story is saying and whom it may appeal to. I think TRTW will crossover into the adult reading market very easily – and Text have printed it in trade paperback format to encourage that. As you say too, it has the look of a gritty adult book – again, the cover design being part of the crossover appeal.

  • What other books would you recommend for fans of The Road to Winter?

In writing TRTW I was influenced by reading a number of books – some obvious, some less so. The obvious ones are John Marsden’s Tomorrow series and The Ellie Chronicles. But I also enjoyed The Dog Stars (US) by Peter Heller, Clade by James Bradley and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

Interview with Christopher Edge

Christopher Edge is the author of many great books for kids, including the Penelope Tredwell books Twelve Minutes to Midnight, Shadows of the Silver Screen and The Black Crow Conspiracy.  Christopher’s latest book is the out-of-this-world, inter-dimensional adventure The Many Worlds of Albie Bright.  I absolutely love this book and you can read my review here on the blog.

I had some questions about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright that I wanted to ask Christopher and he has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out if bananas are indeed radioactive, which Back to the Future film is Christopher’s favourite, and what’s the coolest thing that he has ever built.

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  • What inspired you to write The Many Worlds of Albie Bright?

Lots of things! One of the sparks was a popular science book I read called How To Destroy The Universe And 34 Other Really Interesting Uses of Physics. It described cancer as a ‘quantum killer’ and explained how this disease is caused by a single-cell in your body mutating and going rogue. This got me thinking about the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics which suggests that quantum events might happen in one universe but not a parallel universe, so I had the idea of a boy who might have lost his mother to cancer and how he might try to use quantum physics to find the parallel universe where she is still alive. From this spark I slowly built the story and thought about the different parallel worlds the boy might find and how his life might be subtly different in each one. When friends asked what I was writing, I told them it was like It’s A Wonderful Life, but with added quantum physics!

  • One of the things I love about your book is that there is lots of science in it. Did you have to do lots of research?

Back when I was at school, I got a grade D for GCSE Physics – so I’m not any kind of science whiz! But as an adult I’ve become fascinated by the wonders of the universe as expertly explained by scientists such as Brian Cox, Jim Al-Khalili, Michio Kaku and Brian Greene. The American physicist Richard Feynman once said, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics”, but thanks to a huge pile of books in my office by these and other expert authors, I’ve been able to pretend that I understand a little more than I did before I started writing The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. It was important to me that all the science mentioned in the book was real and accurately described, so I had the manuscript checked by a friend who’s a Professor of Particle Physics and also works at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Luckily he said it passed the test!

  • Are bananas really radioactive?

Amazingly, YES! All bananas contain potassium which is a natural source of radioactivity. This means that if you’re standing next to the fruit bowl in your kitchen and it’s got a banana in it, then every second you’ve got a chance of being blasted with a gamma ray of radioactivity. Don’t worry this is completely safe and won’t turn you into a radioactive banana-eating superhero! However, large shipments of bananas have been known to trigger false alarms when they pass through radiation monitors at ports and airports!

  • Albie uses just a computer, a Geiger counter, a cardboard box and a banana to travel between dimensions. What is the coolest thing you’ve ever built?

A Tusken Raider from Star Wars using toilet rolls and cardboard boxes!

  • Back to the Future gets a couple of mentions in your book. It’s obviously a favourite of yours (who can blame you?). Which movie is your favourite?

The first Back to the Future is obviously the best. In some ways I wish they’d have kept it at just one film as it’s just so perfect from start to finish, whereas I don’t feel that way about the second and third films. Having said that I do like the fact that in one of the parallel universes that Albie visits in the book there’s a cinema showing Back to the Future IV…

  • If you could travel to a different dimension what is one difference that you would like to see and one that you wouldn’t like to see?

Difference that I’d like to see: greater equality. Difference that I wouldn’t like to see: a universe where libraries no longer exist. #savelibraries!

  • What’s the thing you enjoy most about writing stories for young readers?

It’s funny, I spoke about this at the end of an interview I gave to Front Row on BBC Radio 4 and said that one of the things I like best about writing stories for young readers is that you have a fearless audience. Young readers aren’t a jaded audience – they’re an audience with high expectations, who will go with you anywhere if you can deliver on giving them a great story. And it’s a real honour to write for an audience like that.

To find out more about Christopher Edge and his books visit his website, www.christopheredge.co.uk.

Interview with Katrina Nannestad, author of Olive of Groves

k3Today I’m very excited to be joined by Katrina Nannestad, author of the enchanting new book, Olive of Groves.  You can read my review of Olive of Groves here on the blog.  I absolutely love this book and I wanted to ask Katrina a few questions about her book, her characters, and what we can expect next from Olive and the gang at Mrs Groves Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers.  Thanks for joining me Katrina!

  • What inspired you to write Olive of Groves?

‘How about a boarding school story?’ A simple suggestion from my publisher and the world of Groves came tumbling, rumbling, rollicking into my mind. The way a story takes shape can be a little mysterious, but I do remember starting with my students – talking animals for charm, naughty boys for action and circus performers for a touch of the exotic. The combination of all three was sure to lead to adventure, danger, disaster and hilarity. Mrs Groves, kind but bonkers, bumbled forth as the perfect headmistress – one who would not interfere too much with the students’ wild and woolly activities.

Somewhere in this creative process, Olive stepped forward – brave, clever, loyal and a little bit quirky. It was love at first imagining … despite the tartan skirts and long socks … or maybe because of

Once I started writing, the story seemed to take on a life of its own. I just went along for the ride, recording events as they happened, throwing in a pithy comment or two along the way when the need (or urge) arose!

  •  You have a delightful cast of characters in Olive of Groves.  Do you have a favourite character?

Such a difficult question! It’s a bit like asking a parent which child is their favourite.

Olive, of course, is my beloved heroine of whom I am very fond and proud. What a sweety-pie!

But I also adore Pig McKenzie, head boy and school bully. I have had an enormous amount of fun creating this Pig of Poor Character, developing his wicked schemes, fabricating his ridiculous tales of heroism. There is something thrilling about writing a truly despicable character, a villain who inspires us to boo and hiss and stamp our feet every time he sets his fat, pink trotter on the page. There is also something marvellous in knowing that his fate is in my hands!

  •  Which of your characters are you most like?

I hope that I am most like Olive. I always write something of myself into my heroines. Like Olive, I am a little bit clumsy, I can read and write big words like ‘conflagration’ and ‘arthritis’, I like choc-chip bickies and I strive to be brave, kind and loyal.

I fear, however, that I am more like Mrs Groves. I do bumble around the house muttering to myself, I am rather forgetful, I’d rather dive behind a potted palm or some heavy velvet curtains than confront troubling issues  and I do cry, ‘Goodness gracious me!’ many times each day.

  • Lucia Masciullo’s illustrations are wonderful. Are they just as you pictured your characters?

When I write a story, I develop a vivid mental picture of my characters and their world. To have someone else step in and present their own interpretation of that world could be rather troubling. Lucia, however, is a genius! When the roughs for Olive arrived, I thought, ‘Of course! That is just what my heroine would look like!’ From that point on, Lucia’s Olive was the picture in my mind as I was writing.

There is often a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing with roughs and the ideas around characters, but Lucia is incredibly perceptive and has embraced the craziness of Groves. Her illustrations have not changed the characters but have added to their personality and charm. I feel very privileged to be working with this wonderful artist.

  • You have a word-loving rat in your story called Wordsworth and it’s clear that you love playing with words.  Do you have a favourite word or words?

Yes! Don’t we all?

I love words that roll off my tongue, like ‘haberdashery’ and ‘brandish’.

I love words that are out-of-date and sound like something my granny might have said, like ‘evidently’ and ‘poppycock’.

I love ridiculous words, like ‘bowels’ and ‘squelch’.

I love words that contain an entire character description, like ‘prim’ and ‘unscrupulous’.

And I adore words that conjure up big pictures, like ‘flamboyant’ and ‘pandemonium’.

  • Chester the rat loves to collect buttons.  Do you collect anything?

I didn’t really set out to collect pigs, but I have quite a few hanging around. Perhaps people have seen a rusty metal pig in the garden and a wooden pig in the kitchen and they have thought, ‘Hey! I’d better buy Katrina a pig!’ … which is lovely … but also a little bit weird … As a result, I now have a large herd of pigs snuffling and snorting about the house.

There is also at least one pig in every book I have written!

  • Do you have any naughty boys, talking animals or circus performers in your life?

I grew up in a neighbourhood stuffed full of naughty boys, all running around on the tail of my brother’s hare-brained schemes. There were rotten plum fights, parachute jumps, flying fox disasters, wrestling matches, slingshot wars, firecracker explosions, bike stunts … and that was just in our back yard! Now, I am the mother of two boys, so the naughtiness lives on.

I am surrounded by talking animals! My dog, Olive, talks incessantly when we are out walking: ‘Look at that dog over there! Can we go and play with him? Can we? Huh? Can we?’ or ‘Oh no! There’s a bicycle headed our way! A bicycle! You know how they terrify me! Aaaaah!’ The birds in my garden are constantly arguing over branch rights – who got there first and who should take a hike – and whether or not it’s okay to use the birdbath as a toilet. And the nanny goat in the neighbour’s paddock shouts some very rude things to Olive every time we walk past.

Sadly, there are no circus performers in my life. I am, however, currently building a cannon in the shed, from which I plan to fire my husband and then my two sons.  I am expecting them to land somewhere on the South Island of New Zealand.

  • Do you have more adventures planned for Olive?

Absolutely! Books 2 and 3 are already written. This very morning, I received Lucia Masciullo’s cover illustration for the second Olive of Groves. It’s magical!  We are currently editing the third Olive of Groves. Books 2 and 3 are due for release next year in May and November, respectively. 2016 will be a busy time for Olive and her friends! The Pig of Evil Intent returns, too, so BEWARE!

 

 

Seriously Spooky Month: Interview with Derek Landy

Derek Landy is the author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series and the new Demon Road series.  He is one of my absolute favourite authors and I have loved everything that he has read.  I got the chance to meet him and interview him back in 2010 when he was part way through the Skulduggery Pleasant series (you can read the interview here).  Since he has started a new series I wanted to ask him a few questions about it and get the scoop on Demon Road.  Read my interview with Derek to find out how many Demon Road books we have to look forward to, what Derek’s favourite supernatural being is, and why Derek loves horror stories.

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  • How did it feel starting a new series after you had been living in Skulduggery’s world for so long?

Scary, daunting, but also thrilling and refreshing. I was fully at home writing Skulduggery, and possibly too comfortable. That’s not always a good thing for a writer, so a new challenge was needed to stop things from getting stale.

  • Why did you choose to set your new series in America?

The idea of a roadtrip pretty much dictated where it was going to be set. I tried setting it in Ireland, but you can’t really have a roadtrip here. In America, you can drive for weeks without seeing anyone. In Ireland, every five minutes you’d be passing through some small town somewhere…

  • How many books are you planning on writing in the Demon Road series?

Three. There was no way I was committing to a nine book series like I did with Skulduggery!

  • What is your favourite supernatural being?

Vampires are endlessly fun. You can adapt them to fit whatever you need them to be. Dracula had them scary, Anne Rice had them romantic, Buffy had them cool, and Twilight had them sparkly. Er…

  • There are some really gory scenes in Demon Road.  Are these your favourite parts to write?

Gory scenes are definitely fun…! And it’s always an interesting exercise to see how far I can push things before my editor picks up the phone…

  • Out of all of your characters which one are you most like?

I’d like to think I’m like Skulduggery — cool, charming, and awesome. But the truth is I’m probably a mixture of Glen and, I dunno… Scapegrace.

  • Do you see your two series crossing over?  Will Skulduggery characters make an appearance on the Demon Road?

That was a temptation that I ultimately decided against. I wanted people to be able to pick up Demon Road without needing to know the rules of magic as set down in Skulduggery. Plus my vampires in both series are completely different, and I didn’t want to confuse people.

  • Why do you love horror stories?

I’ve always loved horror, since I was a kid. We love to be scared. Being scared is entertainment — provided you get to walk out of the theatre afterwards, or close the book, or turn off the TV. We love horror because it tests us within a safe environment. I doubt I’d love it so much if these things were really happening to me…

  • What other books would you recommend to kids and teens who love your books?

These days I’m recommending ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ by Patrick Ness to everyone, as well as the Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Loved them both.

Demon Road by Derek Landy is out now.  Go and grab a copy from your library or bookshop now.

 

Interview with Leah Thomas, author of Because You’ll Never Meet Me

Today I’m super excited to host an interview with Leah Thomas, author of the wonderful Because You’ll Never Meet Me.  It is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a long time. You can read my review here on the blog.  I had a few questions about Because You’ll Never Meet Me and Leah Thomas has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out what inspired Leah to write her wonderful story, where her characters came from and her favourite books and movies.

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  • I love Because You’ll Never Meet Me! I haven’t read anything quite like it.  What inspired you to write this story?

Thank you, thank you! I love hearing “I love”! And I love hearing “anything quite like it.” But in truth, so many things inspired this story that to me it feels more like “everything quite like it.” Parts of it were inspired by my homesickness while living abroad, parts of it draw directly from the comics and superhero stories that informed my childhood, parts come straight out of working with kids and in schools, with being raised by social workers (like Liz, yes), and a huge chunk of the story comes from the conviction that distances don’t matter so much when you can share words with people, in stories or in letters or in music.

  • When and how did the characters of Ollie and Moritz come to you?

Ollie was easy. Ollie demands to be heard, and I’m pretty sure he was hollering noisy things in my ears for at least a few years before I finally let him holler at other people. There are certain characters that really fight to exist, and he was one of them. I am often captivated by good people who put on a show of being happy even when they may not be, because they care more about how those near them feel than they care about themselves. This is, to me, a very selfless but sad way to live life, and with Ollie, he can’t quite pull it off, because he does value himself.

Moritz is the natural foil to Ollie: he’s very introverted and the front he puts up is that he couldn’t care less about the world, but the opposite is actually true. His self-loathing is so apparent but also so wrongheaded.

Both these characters are approaching their lives with whatever coping strategies they can, and when they contact each other, discover new possibilities for managing the crappy hand life dealt them.

I think these two boys really need each other. They are each other’s hope.

  • Did you have to do a lot of research about their conditions?

Of course research goes into any kind of writing, and where medical issues are concerned this is a must, but I’m going to reiterate: this is by no means a factual book, or at least was never intended to be. Yes, I very much wanted to write about characters with disabilities (and will continue to, because representation is everything!), but in my mind I was doing so within a science fiction framework. On a personal level, an immediate family member has epilepsy, and certainly my experiences with that informed the book, and as far as research into echolocation – it’s true and truly amazing that some people who are visually impaired adapt in remarkable ways, but in the book this is hugely, hugely exaggerated.

Because You’ll Never Meet Me falls very much in line with the spirit of superhero stories – just with a realism aspect that I hope is empowering, if a bit odd.

  • Would you rather live the life of Ollie or Moritz?

I feel like I already lived the life of Ollie! I grew up in the woods of northern Michigan, at the end of a dirt road, and so did a lot of my friends. It’s funny how many people from my hometown recognize aspects of our childhood in the book.

Having said that, I’d love to live in Germany. There’s a distinct lack of diskotheks here!

  • What books and movies inspire your writing?

Oh, gosh, what a huge question! Have you got time to read another book? Because this could go for so many pages. I’ll try to name a few things, in a random blob of text:

Harry Potter, Kurt Vonnegut, Discworld, Wes Anderson, His Dark Materials, MT Anderson, Fullmetal Alchemist, Nancy Farmer, Hannibal (Bryan Fuller), Marvel Cinematic Universe, Coraline, Ray Bradbury, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Tim Burton (the older stuff – you should have SEEN my wall collages in high school), Steven Universe, Patrick Ness, Harold and Maude…

Seriously, do people find ways to answer this question?! INTERROBANG?!

  • Can we look forward to more books from you?

Yes, yes, yes! (Sorry; I’m still excited by the fact.) The sequel to BYNMM, hesitantly titled Nowhere Near You, was actually drafted back in 2013, and will be released in early 2017! And following that, Bloomsbury’s also bought the rights to a work-in-progress called Birds and Other Transdimensional Things, which tells the story of a mother and daughter who have trouble with parallel universes, but more trouble with their relationship.

Thanks so much for having me aboard! I’m still pinching myself.

Interview with Jack Heath, author of The Cut-Out

Today I’m joined by Australian author Jack Heath.  Jack is the author of action-packed thrillers for children and young adults, including the Scream series from Scholastic, Money Run, The Hit-List and his first novel, The Lab.  Jack’s latest novel is The Cut-Out, a spy thriller about mistaken identities that is perfect for fans of the Cherub series and Alex Rider.  I had a few questions about Jack’s latest book and spies.  Jack very kindly answered my questions and you can read them here.

The Cut-Out is out now from Allen and Unwin.

What are 3 words that you would use to describe your new book, The Cut Out? Fast, frantic, fun.

Is the character of Fero based on who you wanted to be when you were a teenager?

Fero is everything I wasn’t – athletic, quiet, courageous. In some ways I wish I’d been more like him, but it’s those qualities that get him into so much trouble in The Cut Out!

In The Cut Out, Fero gets mistaken for enemy agent, Troy Maschenov.  Have you ever had a case of mistaken identity?

I have a brother who looks a bit like me, and sometimes people get us confused. Fortunately my brother isn’t a deadly foreign spy, or so he claims.

What is your favourite gadget in The Cut Out?

Definitely the Armoured Turbofan Vehicle, which is like a cross between a motorcycle and a tank.

What books and movies inspire your writing?

I love spy thrillers by Robert Ludlum and Olen Steinhauer. As for movies, some of my favourites include Tomorrow Never DiesTrue Lies and Mission Impossible 3.

Who is your favourite fictional spy?

I’m a big fan of reluctant spies, so I always loved Alex Rider. He got more interesting with every book!

Your first book, The Lab, was published when you were a teenager.  What advice do you have for young writers who want to get published?

I encourage all aspiring writers to join their local writers centre, to write something every day, and to read everything they can get their hands on.

Who would you recommend The Cut Out to?

The Cut Out is for anyone who likes shifting allegiances, big twists and lots of action.