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INTERVIEWS

Philip Ardagh
Malorie Blackman
Kevin Brooks
Robert Cormier
Cormier & Burgess
Sharon Creech
Joseph Delaney
Berlie Doherty
Anne Fine
Jack Gantos
Sonya Hartnett
Michelle Harrison
Tanuja Desai Hidier
David Levithan
Graham Marks
Chris Mould
Anant Pai
Mal Peet
Philip Reeve
Chris Riddell
Marcus Sedgwick
John Singleton
Robert Swindells
Nick Ward





     

The 'voice' of the main character in your new novel Kissing The Rain, with its insistent CAPITILISATION and tendency to malapropism and made-up words (Oneday, Twoday etc.), is SUCH a key element in the book - how did Moo's voice and its essential characteristics come to you?

I'd been thinking about Moo for a long time, so I knew who he was and how he felt about things, and I knew the feel of his voice inside my head - it was just a case of letting it out in such a way that the voice remained at the heart of the book all the way through. I didn't consciously go looking for a style, but I think I was influenced by the letters and emails I get from readers of Moo's age, and also by the way that some kids write about their problems on various weblogs and websites. I like the rawness and honesty of the way they express themselves, particularly when they're talking about their problems and how they feel about things. Their writing is often quite awkward - lots of misspellings and malapropisms, etc - but they still manage to get over what they're trying to say, and that's what I had in mind for Moo - a kind of articulate inarticulateness, if you like.
Anyway, when I finally sat down to start writing the book, Moo's voice just appeared on the page ... fully formed ... it was almost as if I was possessed by him. Which was kind of weird, but also very exciting.

Along with the voice, there's the Place. The bridge: real place, or entirely imagined?

At the time when I was first beginning to think of the story, I did actually see a young boy standing on a footbridge over the A12 one day. He wasn't Moo, and it wasn't Moo's bridge, but that's where they both come from.

You've now written three, quite amazingly original and distinctive novels. Of the three, Lucas is the odd one out. Its story is strange, but its narrative structure is more conventional. Which leads me to wonder - was Lucas written, or did it derive from material written, before your first book was published?

I'd already written about half of Lucas before I was offered a contract for Martyn Pig. And, funnily enough, I had started a book for adults about ten years earlier which was set on the same island that Lucas is based on - Mersea Island in Essex. Apart from the setting and the atmosphere, though, it was a completely different story, and I'm not sure that either of these things had too much effect on the more conventional narrative structure of Lucas. I think rather, that I'd gained some confidence as a writer from finishing Martyn Pig - and being quite pleased with it - and I just felt that I wanted to write something a bit more traditional - so that's what I did.

In Kissing The Rain the narrative structure is apparently straightforward. Character, with a story to recount, tells it from the perspective of the story's conclusion. "You wanna know the TRUTH? I'll tell you the TRUTH - I'm sick of it.... I wish I'd never been there... never got INVOLVED..." But the perspective is ever-shifting, and the conclusion, towards which the recounted events are heading, keeps moving forward like the brow of a hill you never quite reach. The storymap of the revealed events is never just straight ahead. There are places where the narrative jumps forward a month or more and then steps back to the intervening weeks. Was this narrative structure arrived at organically, or was it carefully planned and storyboarded in advance?

Yes, I had the storymap planned out before I started - I always do. Not in any great detail, but I knew all the key points and when and how they happened, and I knew how I wanted the narrative to work. But, for me, there's always an element of organic growth when a story evolves - and with this one I really enjoyed how things came together and started to grow by themselves. In the US edition of Kissing the Rain, I explain this with a little note:

The story of Kissing the Rain lived in my head for a long, long time. It didn't need much nurturing. All I had to do was keep it fed and watered, occasionally buy it some clothes, and make sure it didn't escape. Then, when the time was right, I just opened the door and let it go. And the funny thing is, as soon as I opened the door - I became Moo Nelson. I became his mind, his body, his words, his truth, and I lived out his journey - from truth to lies and back again; from loneliness to loyalty, from denial to acceptance, from weakness to strength ... It was a hard journey at times, but I loved every second of it.

There is an adult character in this book of real gangland menace. Indeed, it's a book that has much more in common with TV crime dramas or adult crime novels than it does with most other published children's or young adult fiction. Where did you get the inspiration for the police and court procedures in the book? Other fiction, drama, or from real life?

I have to admit that I'm an avid crime buff. I read lots of crime fiction, I watch lots of crime dramas, I'm fascinated by crime in general. I've also had some personal experience of the seedier aspects of life ... but we won't go into that! So, anyway, most of the procedural stuff in Kissing the Rain I kind of knew already, but I did have to do some research when it came to court procedures and the legal side of things, just to make sure that I knew what I was talking about. I'm not a great believer in researching things to death, but I think it's important to get things as close to reality as possible. If I'm reading a book and I come across major things that I know are factually wrong - I feel a bit cheated. It's as if the mistake somehow bursts the bubble that the story creates.

In the book's dedication, you thank your editor Barry Cunningham "for a million good things, but most of all for opening the door and letting me into my life. It's a pretty good feeling when your dreams come true - and I'll never forget who made it possible." This is clearly heartfelt, and no empty Oscar-gratitude, as was apparent when you said much the same thing on accepting the Branford Boase first novel award last year. Let's imagine Barry hadn't come along, and you were still an unpublished writer... CAN you imagine that? Would you still be writing? What DID keep you going in the years up to your acceptance by The Chicken House?

If Barry hadn't come along, and I was still an unpublished writer, I think I'd still be here, still trying to become a published writer. In one way, it's not so hard to imagine, because I never allow myself to forget what it's like - when you desperately want to be something, and you keep trying, and keep being rejected, and you have to spend all day doing something you don't want to do in order to earn enough money to keep going ...
I did it for a long time, so I know what it's like.
But, I suppose, in another way, it is hard to imagine - simply because I love doing what I'm doing now. It's all I want to do. And now that I'm actually doing it, the idea of not doing it is virtually unthinkable.
What kept me going in the years up to my acceptance by The Chicken House? Well, Susan, my wife, for one thing - always there, always supportive, always encouraging. And also - the knowledge that if I stopped trying, there was no chance of making it, but if I kept going, there was always a slight chance. And a slight chance is always better than no chance. Plus, I really like writing ... I need to do it ... and why stop doing something if you like it?

Tell us a bit about how you work. Daily? At a certain time of day? Till you've produced a certain number of words? In what room? Pen? Computer? Are you working on your fourth book?

I try to write for about six or seven hours each day. Usually three or four in the day, then another three or four in the evening. My routine's not set in stone, especially now that I'm being asked to do more things (not that I'm complaining!), but I try to make sure that I write for as long as possible each day. I don't mind how many words I write every day - sometimes it might be a few thousand, other times it might be half a dozen. As long as I'm doing it, that's all that matters.
I write at a computer in a small white room with the door closed.
I've just finished the draft of my fourth book, which I'll be sending off to Barry shortly, and at the moment I'm working on a screenplay for a film of Martyn Pig. Meanwhile, I'm working out what I want to do for book number five.

What did you read/watch over the past month?

This month I 'ave mostly been reading ... all or part of the following: Stalingrad, some books about Gypsies, Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre, Fiend, a book about a 12-year-old serial killer in 19th century USA, some JT Edson westerns, The King of the Torts by John Grisham, a history of the Third Reich, a few Jack Gantos books, Zed and Neke by Larry McMurtry, a history of the Pony Express, plus submissions for the Branford Boase Award.
I don't go to the cinema, but I'll watch anything interesting (or not) on the TV. Favourites include The Simpsons, The Bill, 24, Spooks, BBC News 24 ...

What were your favourite books/films when you were 16?

I was sixteen in 1975. My favourite writers around that time were probably JD Salinger, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick ... I wasn't too bothered about films, although I remember seeing The Outlaw Josey Wales and really liking it.

How do you see your career developing over the next ten years?

I suppose my main ambition over the next ten years is to write the best books that I can. I want to see what I can do. I want to keep on learning how to write. Maybe at some point I might go back to adult fiction again - I've already got a few things in the drawer - but I don't think I'll ever stop writing for kids - mainly, because I like it so much.
I don't really think in terms of career development - I just want to do my best all the time and see how it goes. And enjoy it.

Any plans for a website? Pity kevinbrooks.co.uk and .com have already been taken.

No plans at the moment, although the reason that kevinbrooks.co.uk is already taken is that my brother - a web wizard - snapped it up for me a while ago!

Your writing has already received many compliments. What has pleased you most about its reception?

The most pleasing aspect of all the feedback I've had about my books is the correspondence I get from the readers. Before I was published, I didn't know how much it would mean to me, but now that I get letters and emails from children who've read my books, I've realised that that's what it's all about. I summed it up in a little message on the promotion postcard for Kissing the Rain:

When I write a book it's alive in my head. But it only really comes alive when it finds a life in someone else's head. It's you - the readers - who make it special. So, thank you for bringing my books to life, and thanks for making me feel good.

 

     


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