Hi Simon, welcome to Teen Librarian! Can I ask you to introduce yourself to the audience please?
Greetings and salutations from Sussex-on-toast (as Steve Martin once called it) it’s great to be ‘virtually’ joining you. As a former singer-songwriter turned artist turned screenwriter turned playwright turned novelist, it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I’m open to embracing new frontiers, and the whole blogging universe is totally new to me, so cool, let’s do this! Eh, do I need to wear special goggles? A safety harness of some kind? I get a little woozy in confined spaces (and in deep water, and on top of very, very tall buildings with low guard rails), you know, just so’s you know, in case this becomes one of those things I have to add to the list next time. Blogs, well, I’d love to but after the Teen Librarian experience …
The Savage Kingdom is your first novel; can you describe it in one sentence to hook a potential reader?
THE BEST BOOK YOU’LL READ ALL SUMMER BY FAR! Okay, fair enough, I would say that right. You want more. In one sentence? OK, what they call in Hollywood the elevator pitch:
You were originally self-published, how did you go from being an indie author to being picked up by Simon & Schuster?
I’m a great believer in ‘be the miracle’. If you have a dream, believe in it, go after it whatever it takes. It may take years. If it’s a dream that’s worth anything it’ll probably also be a really tough road full of rejection and disappointment and setbacks. And most likely it’ll lead you to a destination you didn’t expect. But the journey will be an experience all the same. And that’s the true reward. I didn’t get paid to write my novel originally. I wrote it because l had to. I had to get it and those characters out of my head, out of my system, and I wanted to share some stuff I felt about the world with my smart, feisty, inquisitive, beautiful daughter. I don’t know what my agent (the wonderful Zoe King of The Blair Partnership) would say, or the amazing team at Simon & Schuster, but I think they picked it up because it was written from the heart, because I completely ignored ‘the market’ and just wrote a story I was burning to tell, one that surprised and thrilled me and kept me awake at night. Chances are if it does that to you as a writer, it’ll do it to someone else too.
You are also a writer of stage and screenplays, do you find yourself having to think in different ways when writing a novel as opposed to a play?
Hmmm. Great question. The obvious difference is that novels are a marathon while plays/screenplays are a sprint (to this writer anyway). But actually, I think there are more similarities than differences between books and film/TV. Both, when they work well, are very visual. In the latter the creator makes the choice about exactly what it is you are seeing, just like comics and graphic novels, whereas in novels the author seeks to create a picture in the mind’s eye of the reader, and of course that film that’s playing inside your head is different from mine and for every other person reading it. That’s why dedicated fans of novels are often disappointed by adaptations of their favourite works/characters, but it would be impossible to put something on the screen that represented everyone’s idea of what it should be. Stage plays are a different challenge altogether, as with few exceptions, they rely much more heavily on dialogue to carry story and convey character. I love working across all the disciplines – songwriting too – and find it creatively stimulating to move between them. Right now though I’m thrilled to be writing The Savage Kingdom Book II and seeing where Drue and Will-C and the other main characters lead me and whether the survivors of Book I can find a way to live together. Some very big twists and turns in store!
What inspires you to write?
Originally it was Dan Dare (The Eagle comic circa 1964). Him and Spiderman and my dad. They fired my imagination and encouraged me to make stuff up and scribble it down when I was still a kid learning joined-up writing. Because we barely had two pennies to rub together, I had to get inventive about feeding my habit for comics as I couldn’t afford to buy them. So what I did, is I drew my own. Frame by frame. Page by page. Copying others at first, before branching out and inventing my own characters and stories. Below is a snap from a pencil rendition (with apologies to Stan Lee, I was 12 and knew nothing about copyright!) of the origin of Spidey. I drew the whole comic. Spent months on it. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great tool for learning about the economy of storytelling. That’s why I love writing for YA and younger readers. You can’t get away with anything. The story either works or it doesn’t. The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright/novelist David Mamet said an interesting thing about story: All a reader/viewer really cares about is what happens next. What’s inspiring me to write TSK Book II today is exactly that. What happens next!
What is your favourite part in the writing process?
Typing The End! Always a moment of great satisfaction. But I also love all of the stuff that precedes the actual writing. First hand research is key to me and something I really enjoy. Not just trawling the web (though it’s a very useful tool) but hanging out in cafes listening to people, visiting far flung places, experiencing new cultures, discovering new things. What’s also magical, is that moment when you are so absorbed in the tale that the characters begin to lead you where you didn’t expect to go. You’re writing it, supposedly in charge, but they are demanding to take a different path than the one you had planned. That’s always thrilling and a sign to me that a piece is really flying.
Were you a reader as a child/teen and do you read works by other YA authors?
If I wasn’t kicking a ball or building a den in the woods, my nose was always in a comic or a book. I particularly loved stories that explored the wild and involved animals or animal/human relationships: Watership Down, The Call of the Wild and White Fang. I’m still an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, and yes, there’s some brilliant YA on my shelves. I loved The Book Thief, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Dark Materials Trilogy, and though I haven’t bought a copy yet, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park looks like a great read too.
What do you have planned next – after The Savage Kingdom?
The Savage Kingdom Book II! And I’m also thinking about revisiting that world with a third instalment, but I can’t say too much about that yet. If I promise not to drone on for too long, perhaps you’ll invite me back on Teen Librarian for an update down the line. It’s been great sharing some thoughts with you.
And remember, creative writers aren’t much use without creative readers!
With best wishes,