Can you remember the first thing you wrote that you were really pleased
I've been writing as long as I can remember, since the age
of five. My first novel was at age 16 and strongly influenced by the
James Bond books, it was called 'The World, the Flesh and the Devil'
and I loved writing it and thought it was brilliant and that I was marvellous
until it was finished and of course realised it was garbage. I spent
ages dreaming up plots and tortures for the heroes and villains. Way
back I wrote a fantasy novel influenced I suppose by Kafka, about a
man who longs for a child and becomes pregnant. It was all very deadpan
and I was writing about the practical difficulties involved. My mother
read it and loved it and said that fantasy was obviously my thing and
has stuck by this ever since.
Did you write for your school magazine?
I ran the magazine as I was interested in books and something had to
go in it so I wrote these really dreadful poems. I had written a batch
of these no one else had seen that my mother came across and unkindly
she read them. She was stunned that her layabout deadhead son could
produce such sensitive pieces and she was very encouraging. New writers
desperately need this. At the beginning every person's opinion is staggeringly
significant. She has always told me she thought I'd be a good writer
but she is also a strict critic - she read a recent script for a play
I had on at the Chichester festival and said it was hopeless, a washout.
What have you most enjoyed reading to your own three children?
E. Nesbit's 'The Little Princess' and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.
We've read all seven and I found the world she lived in fascinating,
so strict, not the soppy sentimental idea most people have of it but
in fact very brutal with the families suffering terribly. I was completely
gripped by it.
How have they reacted to 'The Wind Singer'?
They have been terribly nice about it and often refer to bits from it.
When I was writing it I did explore ideas with the family and they have
read volume two, which is in transcript form.
Writing this must have been very different to
your usual scripts for Hollywood.
Yes this was much more enjoyable. I love writing for Hollywood but there
is far more checking and agreeing involved and you have to be far more
organised. With Windsinger I was able to let rip, I didn't know where
I would go or what would come up. I let it be wild and free and then
hammered it into shape. There is a tendency for fantasy to get boring,
you have to create good characters and let them take you there. My Hollywood
scriptwriting has given me a very good training in how to build a story
and I consider many drafts to be normal. I take first reader opinion
very seriously and respond accordingly to change areas they criticise.
How do you think the book will be received by
teachers in view of the current educational climate?
A few people have said it is a satire but it is actually an attack.
I don't like any system where a narrow set of test results are applied.
It is good to strive but each person is better in different ways and
learns at different speeds. I don't like simple measurements as tags,
you hear children say they are stupid because they came bottom of the
class in something. That child may well be maturing at a different pace
to the rest and given confidence could blossom. The problem then is
how do you measure and I think the answer isn't to produce broad stroke
tests but motivate parents to care because if parents care then as a
teacher you have to care. It would be far better if parents chose schools
not on test results but on what they have heard teachers say about the
children. It is very difficult with large class sizes but surely the
answer is to double teacher pay which will lead to greater self-esteem
and respect for the profession.
There are many memorable characters in the book,
which ones gave you the most pleasure to write?
The two main characters, particularly Bowman and the way he starts off
timid and, with the development of his power of empathy, becomes really
confident. I enjoyed writing about this power and how he can make people
love him with it, like the Raka of Baraka and the Old Queen. It is an
interesting power; it fits easily with being afraid. .
My favourite characters are the mud people but
their use of tixa leaves could be seen as controversial in a children's
novel, why did you include this?
In the mud world using tixa is like going to the pub, it doesn't cause
them to do anything bad, it is a male thing. With the children it enables
them to do things they couldn't normally do, at one point they use it
to overcome hunger and exhaustion, but it doesn't solve any problems.
I wanted to include it as part of the normal world, it is neither demonised
nor glamourised. The chocolate buttons are an example of using something
outside yourself as an excuse for your behaviour. The Emperor is not
addicted he is just frightened and uses the buttons as his excuse for
not leaving the tower and changing the situation in Aramanth.
What effect do you hope the ending will have on
I want the reader to derive strong satisfaction from two things, first
the destruction of the exam system and second the coming together of
the Hath family after the terrors they have been through. I have been
writing about this family both as a child and as a father.
Does the Morah return?
Yes, the Morah is really a collective sense of the people - it represents
the drive for success, competition and the need to do down others all
of which are necessary human traits but can get nasty. It is recurrent
depending on what is going on in society for example times of economic
growth and expansion can lead to competition and even war so the Morah
gets a grip once again. The Singer people are the opposite of this they
represent making a sacrifice for others and are an important part of
Yes, volume two of the story is due out in hardback
this time next year. Can you give us some hints about what happens to
the Hath family?
Volume two sees the destruction of Aramanth because it has essentially
become lost. The liberation was good but it was unstructured and the
population are unable to defend themselves against the enemies and are
taken into slavery. The children are now 15 and this is marriageable
age so there is a lot about how they cope with their this stage of being
half children, half adults.