Tag Archives: writing

The Magic of Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo is one of my favourite authors.  He has written hundreds of stories now and they always leave a lasting impression on you.  He is an incredibly gifted storyteller who knows just how to grab the reader.  There are two new Michael Morpurgo books out just in time for Christmas and they will make lovely gifts for any reader, both young and old.

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The Fox and the Ghost King (published by HarperCollins) is a wonderful little story with something for everyone.  There are foxes, football and a ghost.  The story follows a family of foxes who love to watch football.  Their favourite team, the Leincester City Foxes, keeps losing and losing and it seems like things will never look up.  One night though as they are heading home they hear a ghostly voice and they discover the ghost of a king who has been buried underneath a car park.  The ghost king promises the foxes that if they help him, he will help their favourite football team to win again.  This is a book that is perfect to share with the whole family as it is short and will grab everyone’s attention.  I loved this little story and will come back to it again.

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Such Stuff: a story-maker’s inspiration (published by Walker Books) is the perfect gift for any Michael Morpurgo fan.  This gorgeous hardback book is packed full of information about Michael’s most memorable stories.  Michael introduces his stories, telling you where he got the inspiration for each of them.  This is then followed by an extract from the story and some of the facts from the story too.  Reading this book makes you feel like you are sitting down in front of the fire with Michael as he tells you his stories personally.   With every part that I read I felt that I fell more in love with Michael’s writing and his stories became more ingrained in my mind.  Finding out where the inspiration for the stories came from made me desperate to go back and read them all over again.  By the end of the book I felt completely wrapped up in his stories.  It’s a book that I will dip into again and again.

This book is a family effort.  Not only are there parts written by Michael Morpurgo about his work, but Michael’s wife Clare, his brother Mark (who came up with the idea for the book) and Michael’s long-time collaborator, Michael Foreman, all helped to create this treasure trove of a book.  Such Stuff is a must-buy for any Michael Morpurgo fan.

 

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Guest Author – Juliet Jacka on Frankie Potts

Juliet Jacka is the author of the fantastic new Frankie Potts series, about an inquisitive girl detective.  The series is full of excitement, adventure and lots of fun.  You can read my review of Juliet’s new series here on the blog.

Juliet has very kindly written a special guest post for My Best Friends Are Books all about her Frankie Potts series and how it came to life.

How to turn five crazy words into a book

My new chapter-book series about Frankie Potts, amateur detective, and her clever dog Sparkplug burst into life thanks to an exercise I did at a writing course. Our teacher asked us to string together a bunch of unrelated words into some sort of story.

I wish I could remember exactly what those five words were. But I’ve lost the bit of paper. Although I think they might have been something like:

Jam
Spectacles
Bobbydazzler
Slater
Apricot

Or possibly something else altogether. The point being, those five crazy words made my brain crank and whir, as it tried to string those horribly unrelated things together into some sort of something … and when I tried that out popped the character Frankie Potts.

Although, initially, she was a he — Arty Potts — until my story grew and changed after I fell in love with Arty … then Frankie … and started turning the 500 word exercise into a fully fledged book.

So, why don’t you give it a go? You might surprise yourself and accidentally write a book. All you need to do is pick five words, then try and smoosh them up together somehow into a 500 word story.

If you’re after crazy five-word inspiration, give these ones a go (they’re from my first two Frankie books, out now).

Five words from Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries

Dirigible
Skateboard
Tattoo
Circus
Dog

Five words from Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar

Skull
Borneo
Python
Gobstopper
Kangaroo

Now go get crazy word story writing!

Find out more about me and my books.

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Once Upon a Slime by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

Is this the right book for you?

Take the SLIME TEST and find out.

– Have you ever wondered where ideas come from and how stories are made?

– Would you like to know the true stories behind some of Andy and Terry’s books and characters?

– Would you like to discover 45 great ways to have fun with words and pictures?

SCORE: If you answered YES to any of these questions, then this is definitely the right book for you! If you answered NO to all of these questions then you are an IDIOT and this is DEFINITELY the right book for you!

Once Upon a Slime is a must-have book for young writers and fans of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. The book is crammed full of ideas from Andy and Terry’s books to get you writing and have fun while doing it. There are heaps of examples of the crazy, stupid and disgusting stories from Andy and Terry’s books, along with 45 writing and storytelling activities.  They give you ideas for writing lists, instructions, cartoons, letters, personal stories, poems and pocket books.  You can have a go at:

  • Designing your own crazy machine
  • Draw something exploding
  • Make an ‘I hate’ list
  • Write a list of scary things
  • Make the unbelievable believable
  • Write your own time wasting cartoon

The book is aimed at kids so it’s easy to read and great to dip in and out of.  It’s also a great resource for teachers as there are heaps of great writing ideas that are quick and fun ways to get kid’s imaginations flowing.

I tried using some of the activities on the Christchurch Kids Blog last week as a school holiday activity and got some really cool writing from the kids.  Check out their Andy Griffiths Writing Challenge samples and why not try them yourself.

Grab a copy of Once Upon a Slime from your library or bookshop now and let your imagination run wild!

Here’s a video of Andy Griffiths talking about the book and trying some of his own writing activities:

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Interview with Gareth P. Jones + giveaway of Constable & Toop

Garth P. Jones is the author of the creepy, gruesome and funny new book, Constable & Toop (you can read my review here).  After finishing Constable & Toop I wanted to find out what else he had written and I discovered that we had his Dragon Detective Agency series and The Thornthwaite Inheritance sitting on our library shelves.  I love his writing style and I now want to go and read all of his other books.  Gareth very kindly answered my questions about his writing and his fantastic new book.

  • What inspired you to write Constable and Toop?
I was sitting in a coffee shop in Honor Oak (which is not far from my flat). The coffee shop is opposite an undertakers called Constable & Toop. At the time I was trying to come up with a new idea. I wrote down the name of the undertakers, which I found especially evocative. By the time I had finished my coffee the bare bones of the idea were down on paper.
  • Are any of the ghosts in Constable and Toop based on real ghosts?
As a non-believer, I am amused by the idea of real ghosts, but yes – some are. The Man in Grey is the best example. A tour guide by the name of David Kendell-Kerby (also an actor and writer himself) told me about several ghosts who haunt Drury Lane (apparently the most haunted theatre in the world). I liked the story of the Man in Grey best. The stuff about him being bricked up in the wall and possibly killed for discovering accounting irregularities is all ‘true’ although his name was unknown so I borrowed David’s. The part about him whispering to lines to actors is ‘true’ as well – a kind of spiritual teleprompter.
  • In your story there are different types of ghosts, including Enforcers, Prowlers and Rogues. What sort of ghost would you be?
Well, I have certainly worked for large organisations like the Bureau where you can hide the fact you’re not doing much behind all the processes and procedures so maybe I would be a clerk – although a far less conscientious one than Lapsewood .

  • The story is set in Victorian England and you really feel immersed in the period as you read. While researching and writing your story what was the most interesting thing that you learnt about this period?
I think mostly I was struck by how similar it was. I was interested in the South-East London suburbs where I live and where most of the action is based and, although there has been a lot of development, it’s not that different in terms of how connected to London you feel. One of the formative moments in writing was standing at the top of the hill between Honor Oak and Peckham Rye and looking down at London and I realised that the view probably wouldn’t have been dramatically different – give or take a few buildings here and there. There were lots of moments while wandering around London when I felt very connected with the city’s history.

  • One of the things I like the most about Constable and Toop is the mix of the creepy and gruesome with the lighter moments and witty banter between your characters. Was this how you originally planned the story or did you set out to write a more traditional ghost story?
I had a very tight deadline with this book and how no real time to stop and consider what I was doing. Happily the story flowed very quickly from my pen. Gruesome and creepy were necessities of the story and I always intended it to be funny. My editor had told me that she didn’t think my previous book (The Considine Curse) was very funny so I was determined to make sure this one was.
  • What exciting stories can we look forward to from you?

Hm, I’m not sure I’m ready to tell anyone yet. It looks like it will have a Victorian setting again though – at least in part. And It will probably have elements of supernatural and humour – but not ghosts again. I’ll save ghosts for when I do a sequel to Constable & Toop… if I ever do that is.

Win a copy of Constable & Toop!

I have 2 copies of Constable & Toop to give away.  To get in the draw just enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Wednesday 21 November (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  This competition is now closed.

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Interview with Annabel Pitcher

Annabel Pitcher is one of my favourite authors.  Her first two books, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds are absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.  Annabel very kindly answered some of my burning questions about Ketchup Clouds and her writing style.

  • What was your inspiration for Ketchup Clouds?

The plot took a long time to figure out. The only thing I knew from the very beginning was that I wanted to write about a girl, Zoe, who kills someone and completely gets away with it. I imagined a dramatic scene occurring at sunset, which is where I got the title, Ketchup Clouds (i.e. red clouds). Apart from that, I had no idea what the story would involve. Slowly, over a few months of planning, thinking and generally just daydreaming and calling it work, I decided to make it a love story.  However, I desperately didn’t want it to be one of those cheesy high school tales, so I tried to think of an unusual way to tell Zoe’s story, a quirky way to explore the well-worn theme of first love. I experimented with all sorts but eventually came to realise that the best way to tell Zoe’s tale was through a series of anonymous letters. Zoe has this terrible secret that she can’t reveal to anyone she knows, so it makes sense for her to try and confess to a stranger. That’s when the whole book really took off and became something exciting! I could just imagine this distraught, teenage girl, wracked with guilt, tiptoeing out in the middle of the night after a bad dream to hide away in the garden shed and write a secret letter. The question was, to whom? I thought of celebrities, The Pope, even Santa Claus (!) but nothing felt quite right. Then one night when I was driving home from my parents’ house, I suddenly remembered that I’d written to an inmate on Death Row in America when I was a teenager. I’d got involved in a ‘pen pal’ scheme through Amnesty International, and the strange thing about writing to someone you’ve never met, someone who has done something wrong, is that you become far more open about your own life and flaws than you would to a friend. Because you’ll never meet them, you can tell them anything. That’s when I knew that Zoe had to write to a criminal on Death Row. So, in answer to your question, there was no real direct inspiration for the novel. I worked hard to come up with an unusual story, but once I had the pieces in place, it was relatively easy to write.

  • I love the way that you portray the parents in your stories.  They aren’t always the best parents but deep down they love their children.  Why do parents play such an important role in your stories?
I think it’s because I like to write coming-of-age stories. Though Zoe in ‘Ketchup Clouds’ is a lot older than Jamie in ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’, they are both coming-of-age tales: both characters grow up in the novels, they both learn something, and they both mature. Inevitably, when talking about a child or teenager growing up, you have to explore their relationship with their parents and how this changes. One of the things most people come to understand as they get older is that their parents aren’t perfect. Depending on the situation, this is either a positive or negative moment of awakening, but it happens to most of us at some point in our childhood or teens, so it seems a natural thing to focus on that in a YA book.
  • Ketchup Clouds is a story driven by relationships.  How do you create realistic relationships between your characters?
The honest answer is, I do a huge amount of talking out loud! The neighbours probably think I’m crazy! Getting dialogue right is so important if you are to construct a realistic relationship, so I write a bit then act it out to see if it sounds authentic. If anything jars, I delete it straight away. I listen very closely to the way that people talk. Conversations are full of false starts, pauses, repetition, hesitation and so forth, so I try hard to capture that in my dialogue. I think it also helps that I am fascinated by people. I study humans – the way we interact, our psychology, why we do the things we do and how we screw up – and I use all of my research in my books to try and construct three dimensional characters who are neither good nor bad, but somewhere in between. Then it’s just a matter of putting a few characters together and trying to guess what they would say to each other!
  • Both Ketchup Clouds and My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece are told in first person.  Is this a style that you prefer or did it just seem right for the stories you were writing?
I do prefer it, both as a reader and a writer. I love the intimacy – the ability to get inside a character’s head so completely. As a reader, I was drawn to novels with a strong narrative voice (How I Live Now, Broken Soup, The Catcher in the Rye, Perks of Being A Wallflower) so, when I set out to write my own book, I wanted to try it in the first person. It is so much fun trying to capture a character’s unique voice. You have to really listen to them inside your head, hear their dialect, and then try to work out how to represent that on paper so it seems as if they’re really talking. Should they pause here?  Stop completely there?  Elaborate that point further? I love making those decisions! Saying that, I do think I need a break from writing in the first person. In ‘Ketchup Clouds’, I was keen to make Zoe sound totally different from Jamie in ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’, but I don’t know if I come up with a third completely contrasting narrative voice just yet. I need a break – so I’ve started writing my third novel in the third person. It’s going okay so far and it’s a nice change.
Ketchup Clouds is released in NZ today so grab a copy from your library or bookshop.  You can also enter my competition to win a copy of Ketchup Clouds.

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Guest Author: Glenn Wood talks about The Brain Sucker

When I first came up with the idea for ‘The Brain Sucker’ it was quite different.  For a start it wasn’t called “The Brain Sucker’, it was called ‘The Manners Thief’.  This was an idea I’d been mulling over ever since I’d seen a really badly behaved kid running riot at my local supermarket (‘The frozen pea thrower’ was another working title).   It was as if the child had no manners at all and I wondered if someone had stolen them.  Then I started to notice more badly behaved children and decided there was definitely a manners thief on the loose.

From there I had to work out just how the manners were stolen and I came up with the idea of a villain who sucked the manners straight out of children’s heads for his own nefarious purposes.  Clearly he needed a machine that would do this and the brain sucking machine was born.

Now I had an idea and a villain with an evil plan.  Next I needed someone to stop him and I knew that would need to be someone who was really polite and not scared of a challenge.  Callum formed quickly as did his disability because it automatically made him a kid used to adversity with plenty of guts and determination.  Once I knew Callum would be in a wheelchair it opened up lots of possibilities for his friend Sophie to exercise her crazy inventive mind to ‘trick it out’.

Jinx was a character I’d been thinking about for some time.  I love the idea of the world’s unluckiest boy and he is based on me as a kid (and many would argue, as an adult).  I’ve always been accident prone and susceptible to bad luck.  He was easy to write!

Once the story was written my very smart publisher and editor asked if we could have the machine sucking more than just manners out of the kids – it would be much more evil if Lester sucked the goodness out of them.  I agreed and ‘the Brain Sucker’ started to take shape.

Writing Lester and his dumb but dangerous henchmen Darryl and Parson was lots of fun.  Lester is clearly insane but he’s also a twisted genius, my favourite kind of villain!  His plans are grandiose and a bit far farfetched, but I love evil doers who think on a grand scale, which is why I have always loved the villains in James Bond films!

My top five kid’s villains in no particular order would be:

  • Voldemort (of course)
  • Scar (The Lion King)
  • Megamind (best comic villain)
  • Principal Agatha Trunchbull (Roald Dahl’s Matilda)
  • Count Olaf

You can win a signed copy of Glenn’s fantastic book, The Brain Sucker, right here on the blog.  Check out the competition post and tell me about your world domination plan to get in the draw.

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Interview with Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon

Christopher Paolini, the author of the Inheritance Cycle, came down to Christchurch at the weekend for the Armageddon Expo.  Along with hundreds of other fans, I went along to listen to Christopher talk about his books and get some copies of his books signed.  I caught up with Christopher to ask him a few questions about his books and writing.

  • What inspired you to write the Inheritance Cycle?

Boredom, mainly, and the desire to have adventures myself. Growing up, I never wanted to be a writer. No, I wanted to be flying dragons and fighting monsters! But since I couldn’t do that, and since I had a lot of time on my hands after I graduated from high school at fifteen (I was homeschooled my whole life), I decided to write my daydreams down. Fortunately for me, enough people around the world have enjoyed reading them that I get to tell stories for a living.

  • How do you keep track of all the different characters within the world of your books.

With lots and lots and lots of files. I didn’t used to do that when I started Eragon, but very quickly I found myself with so many characters, I couldn’t keep track of all of them in my head. So I started writing them down in a file, along with all of the words of my invented languages, timelines, and so on. It can be a bit tedious, but in the long run, it saves a lot of effort.

  • How did it feel to get your story published when you were so young?

Well, it was gratifying to know that people actually wanted to read something that I had written. And it was really neat to see my books shelved in the library and bookstores just like all of the books I had read growing up. But at the same time, it was a strange experience to go from a rather rural upbringing in Montana to traveling all around the world and talking to thousands of people at a time. Writing and publishing these books changed my life completely, and again, I’m grateful for the opportunities they have given me.

  • The Inheritance Cycle has been a huge phenomenon. Do you feel any pressure from your fans to write something just as amazing, or even better, next?

Not really. I like to think that whatever I write next will be better than what I’ve written before (I’ve learned a lot from each book, after all), but either way, I’m happy with what I accomplished with the Inheritance cycle, and it won’t bother me if my future books aren’t as popular. When I started Eragon, I was just trying to write the sort of story that I wanted to read myself. Moving forward, that’s all I can hope to do. I can’t write to please others, only myself.

That said, I do think you’ll enjoy my next book. 🙂

  •  How did you find the experience of your book being made into a film?

Strange and surreal! I’m glad that the movie was made—very few books are ever adapted into films, after all—and I gave as much input as I could into the process, but ultimately, the movie reflects the director’s and the studio’s vision of the story, even as the books reflect mine. Hopefully we’ll get some more movies in the future, though.

  • What books would you suggest for anyone that loves the Inheritance cycle?

Dune by Frank Herbert, Magician and sequels by Raymond E. Feist; A Wizard of Earthsea and the first two sequels by Ursula K. Le Guin; the Belgariad, the Mallorian, and the Elenium by David Eddings; Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams; the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake; The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison; the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffery; the Pit Dragon trilogy by Jane Yolen, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques; Fablehaven and sequels by Brandon Mull; and many, many more. 

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Because I didn’t have anything else to do at the time, and because I’ve always enjoyed creating things with my hands, whether it was knives, swords, drawings, chain mail, or books. Also, because stories (both in books and in other media) touch me in a way that few things in this world do, and I wanted to share that feeling with other people.

  • What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a writer?

Worst thing? Having to sit down every day and work on the same thing for years on end, even if I don’t feel like it at that particular moment. Best thing? Getting paid to describe my dreams for a living, and knowing that what I’ve written has changed people’s lives all around the world.

  •  If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

A blacksmith, or a professional artist, or a film director. Whatever I ended up doing, I know that I would make things. That’s what I love to do—make things.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers what would it be?

Hmm. There’s no way I can restrict it to one piece of advice, so here’s what I always tell aspiring writers, regardless of their age:

  1. Read, read, read, read. Good writers are good readers. Read what you love, but also read things outside of your comfort zone, because you’ll learn more than if you just stick with what you’re familiar with.
  2. Write every single day. Don’t wait for inspiration. I only get inspiration about once every three months. In the meantime, I write. I write on weekends, I write on holidays, and I write on my birthday. In short, I write. I do take Christmas off—and of course I can’t really write when I’m traveling—but that’s the extent of it.  Writing is like playing a musical instrument: if you want to get good at it, then you have to practice every single day, even when you don’t feel like it.  So unless you’re in the hospital—and maybe even then—you better write.  Of all the traits an author can possess, persistence is the most important. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If you don’t practice, you’ll never master your craft. As Calvin Coolidge said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”
  3. Write about whatever it is you care about the most. Writing is often difficult, but if you truly care about the subject material, that’ll help you through the rough patches.  And it doesn’t matter what your interests are. Just don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t write. If you want to compose a twelve-volume epic about singing toasters and flying unicorns … then go for it! There are over six billion people on this planet. Through sheer odds, I guarantee that there are lots of other people out there who like the same things you do, no matter how obscure they might be.
  4. Learn everything you can about the language you’re writing in. Grammar is boring, I know, but the better you understand your language, the better you’ll be able to get what’s in your head onto the page and into someone else’s head.
  5. Find someone in your life—friend, family member, teacher, librarian, etc.—someone who is a good reader, who likes the sort of thing you’re writing, and who can help edit your work. As painful as editing can be, I guarantee that you’ll learn more from editing than you ever will from just writing. The trick isn’t just to perform (and make no mistake, writing is a performance), the trick is to perform and to consciously evaluate what you’re doing so that you can improve.  For example, when singing, it’s sometimes hard to hear if you’ve hit a bad note. That’s why every professional singer goes to a voice coach. Sometimes more than one. Writing is no different. Your trusted readers, your editors, are your voice coaches. Listen to them, and you’ll improve at your craft far faster than you would otherwise.
  6. This doesn’t work for every author, but I would also recommend plotting out your stories beforehand. Again, a musical analogy may serve: it’s hard to compose a piece of music while performing it, so first you compose it, and then you can concentrate upon performing it as beautifully as possible. So too with writing. Also, read the book Story by Robert McKee. It’s highly useful when it comes to learning how to understand the underlying structure of stories.  If I try to write without knowing where the story is going, I get instant writer’s block.
  7. As a corollary to No. 2 – don’t give up. It’s incredibly easy to give up, and there are many, many people in the world who will tell you that you can’t do something. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can, assuming you’re reasonably intelligent and willing to put in the work. Sure, you’re going to get discouraged, and there are going to be days when it seems impossible to finish a book or get it published. That happens to all of us. Even once we’re published. The trick is to keep plugging away and trying to get better.
  8. And lastly, try to have fun. You don’t have to have fun every day, but try to have fun more days than you don’t. If you can’t, maybe it’s time to think of a profession in a different line of work. 

Thank you for reading my books, and I hope you enjoy my future ones even more.

And as Eragon himself would say, “Sé onr sverdar sitja hvass!”

May your swords stay sharp.

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Interview with Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher is the author of one of my favourite reads of 2011, Far Rockaway (you can read my review on the blog).  I caught up with Charlie to ask him a few questions about Far Rockaway, classic characters and writing.

  • Cat and her grandfather Victor, plan to go to Far Rockaway at the end of the subway line.  Is Far Rockaway based on an actual place?

Absolutely, Far Rockaway is based on an actual place. If you’re in New York you can jump on the subway, and take the A-line train all the way eastwards, under the river, through Brooklyn and across Queens on to a long sand spit sticking out into the Atlantic and then you’re on The Rockaways (and if you – like me – have a guilty secret and used to love the Ramones, you’ll recognize the name of the sand you’re now running alongside as Rockaway Beach, the title of one of their fine 3 chord musical wonderments). Then you just stay on the train until it literally runs out of track and America too, and that’s Far Rockaway.The very few trainspotters who will read the book will notice that the A-line begins at the northern tip of Manhattan at a station called Inwood, and that Cat’s journey to the ‘other’ Far Rockaway in the parallel story-world of her coma begins when she wakes up in a wood in a chapter called, er, Inwood. Quite a coincidence, eh?

Of course the other Far Rockaway in the book is an imaginary place, but it’s based on two very real landscapes, Solas Beach on the island of North Uist, and the uninhabited island of Mingulay, both in the Outer Hebrides where we go every summer to recharge the batteries. They’re among my favorite places in the world, and I think even people used to the natural wonders of NZ might find them quite beautiful too.

  • Cat meets some of the best characters from classic adventure stories in Far Rockaway.  Was it difficult to make those characters sound authentic?

If I did get the voices of say, Long John Silver or Alan Breck right, it’s entirely because I’m a writer, and thus a thief, and I stole from the best, for example,  Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s such a tremendously good story-teller and  he created magnificent heroes and anti-heroes in such a well-crafted and distinctive way that their voices just can’t help but live on in your head. And if their voices live in your head, you can then imagine how they might say things the original author never made them say, which makes reviving them such a pleasure.Of course the other thing about writing fiction in general is that you have to be quite a good mimic anyway, remembering both what people say and how they talk: very sadly I can often be found striding up and down my office having imaginary conversations with myself in the guise of my characters, and doing the voices at the same time. It’s a lot less dangerous than the other times when I’m acting out sword fights or bits of action in order to be able to describe them accurately, but it’s MUCH more embarrassing if any of my family walk in and catch me at it. That said, I now do a very good Ray Winstone impression that I perfected while doing the gruff voice of The Gunner in my Stoneheart books , and in Far Rockaway Alan Breck shometimes shounded shtrangely like the younger Sean Connery, though I did try to shtop myshelf before it got sherioushly out of hand…

  • The main character in Far Rockaway, Cat, is a strong, independent girl who doesn’t need anyone to save her.  Is Cat based on someone in particular?

My daughter thinks I was inspired to write the book FOR her, which is generally true, because I write books for both my kids first. And it’s specifically true in this case because when she was about 12 she fell for a certain series of vampire related books but then suddenly un-fell for them a year later (admittedly on a second reading, itself a testament to their great power).  When I asked her why, she said well, she’d kinda liked the girly romance thing and everything first time round, but on a re-read realized that the heroine was always hanging about moping and waiting for the glamorous guys to rescue her. She  – at the ripe old age of 13 – thought that on reflection this was ‘a bit wimpy and old-fashioned’, and that she wanted books with stronger heroines…I could have stood up and cheered.

I didn’t.

I wrote Far Rockaway for her instead.

I did also remember to thank my wife for reading her a great and funny book called The Paper Bag Princess many years before, which put the right foundations in. In my humble opinion, every parent should read The PBP to their daughters (AND sons) if they can find a copy….

What she doesn’t know, and probably shouldn’t, is that Cat’s also inspired BY her, and all the other Real Girls I’m lucky enough to have known, especially that one who married me. I’m not going to drop a Spoiler Bomb on my own book here, but if you want to know how a Real Girl defines herself, there’s a big clue in the last four words on p.403.

  • If you could meet one book character in real life who would you choose?

If it was a female character, it’d be Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Or Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Or any or all of Terry Pratchett’s witches – Granny Weatherwax, Magrat or Nanny Ogg.  Or Eowyn from Lord of the Rings. Or Sara Paretsky’s great female detective, V.I. Warshawski.If it was a male character, then it’s Long John Silver from Treasure Island or Alan Breck Stuart from Kidnapped. Or  Mahbub Ali from Kim. I was going to say Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, but then I thought that Merlin from The Sword in the Stone might be more fun, since he’s not only a wizard, but is also living backwards in time. It’d be interesting to see what he had to tell us about the future. And in the same way, but the opposite direction, I’d choose Puck from Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, because he took his friends into the past and showed them things that happened a long time ago.

Ok. Not what you asked but you have to admit that’s at least  one interesting dinner-party full. If you cruelly limit me to just one, I’m going with Puck, but only because Elizabeth Bennet’s already in love with someone else and I’m no match for a Darcy…

  • What were the books that got you hooked when you were a kid?
Everyone’s reading journey is different, but they all begin with similar primary colours. So here’s an unedited memory dump: Going from my earliest recollections, in order: being read to: Dr Seuss and Winnie the Pooh.  And then reading for myself, pre-teen? Tintin. Paddington. Asterix. Any comic I could find, especially The Eagle, Victor, Hotspur or The Trigan Empire strip off the back end of a mag called Look and Learn.  A book called Mary Plain, also about a bear. Biggles. Enid Blyton. The Borrowers.  The Rescuers. Alan Garner. Geoffrey Treece. Rosemary Sutcliffe. Ian Fleming.  Wildly age-inappropriate Sven Hassel books about an SS Panzer battalion (in mitigation, I was locked in a pretty unreconstructed boy’s boarding school at the time).
Then everything I could lay my hands on, usually passed on from my dad – westerns, especially Louis L’Amour and JT Edson, pulp American crime like Rex Stout and Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, CS Forester’s Hornblower series, lot’s of WW2 and Prisoner of War memoirs (this was the 70’s and there were a lot of them about. I loved the Colditz Story especially since it seemed full of useful tips that might be helpful in escaping the prep school I was stuck in  at the time) Neville Shute, Nicholas Montserrat, Alastair Maclean (I still love his first, HMS Ulysses) and then a teenage double-life reading the classics by day for school and then pleasure, and SF by night – Heinlein, Dick, Asimov, Bester, Niven etc etc. And then it just keeps on getting worse and I always need new bookshelves or a trip to the charity shop with a bag full o’ books. Thank god for the Kindle…
  • If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?

As you might think from the above answer; read everything and anything you can lay your hands on. If you want to write: do it. Don’t let anyone discourage you about writing – LEAST OF ALL YOURSELF. Keep at it. Pay attention to everything, because everything matters. So does everyone. Keep writing, even when it’s hard. Don’t be discouraged because what you write sounds like something else you’ve read. That’s not a bad thing. Every writer began like that, and the ones that didn’t are lying. The stuff you read, the stuff you love, the stuff that made you want to write in the first place, that stuff supports you as you set out on your own journey, just like training wheels on a bike when you learn how to ride. You’ll get your balance soon enough and the training wheels will just fall away, and you won’t even notice it until one day you’ll re-read something you just wrote and realize that the voice you’re hearing is your own, shaped by the ones you used to hear, but belonging to no-one but you. It’s a good moment, and if you keep writing, you’ll get there. Good luck and enjoy the ride…..

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