Friday, 29 August 2014

WOW! Let’s Celebrate; Comics, Graphic Novels and Magazines! Stew Magazine 3D Review; Fiction Author Interview with Nick Cross

Nick Cross is a writer of children's fiction, he was a winner of Undiscovered Voice's 2010, since the launch of the Stew Magazine earlier this year he has been a regular contributor.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I didn’t really start reading “proper” books until my teens – it wasn’t that I didn’t want to read, more that I disliked the books that teachers and librarians were offering me. Instead, I became obsessed by the interactive Fighting Fantasy gamebooks created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. I must have collected about twenty-five of them, and would read and re-read them endlessly (which the format of course encouraged you to do).

If I was growing up nowadays, I suppose I might be labelled a reluctant reader and would probably play video games instead. I sometimes wonder if I would have become a writer without the bridge to literacy that the Fighting Fantasy books (and also comics) provided.

What was your favourite children’s magazine/comic/annual as a child?

I grew up with the classic IPC comics of the 1980s, like Buster, Wow and Whizzer & Chips. There was nothing more exciting than hearing them land on the doormat on a Saturday morning, and I generally devoured them in one sitting. My childhood was a bit of a grim time, so those comics provided a welcome ray of sunshine for me.

Whizzer and Chips was a particularly great concept: two rival comics that were literally bound together. The comics even encouraged you to take sides – were you a Whizz-Kid or a Chip-ite? The idea proved so influential that when I came to create a fanzine with my friend in the early Nineties, we instead made two rival fanzines and stapled them back-to-back.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

It’s ironic that I didn’t read many children’s books as a child, because now I read almost nothing else! Picking a favourite is always really hard, though, because there are so many good ones. If I was to choose the book that had the most emotional effect on me, it would be Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss. I discovered that a couple of years ago – shortly after a bout of depression – and it really spoke to me.

Do you read comics/graphic novels as an adult? If so, which is your favourite?

If you were only asking about children’s comics, I would say The Phoenix, which is an excellent publication that my kids devour in much the same way I once read Whizzer and Chips. But, I also really enjoy comics for adults, and you can’t go wrong with the DC Vertigo titles. Just this week, I read the first volume of Federal Bureau of Physics, which has one of those brilliant “why didn’t I think of that?” concepts behind it. If I had to pick a favourite, though, I would choose Bill Willingham’s Fables series, a wonderfully subversive reimagining of fairy tale characters in the modern world.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

I think it’s all about the readers – their lack of cynicism encourages children’s writers to take risks and try new things without fear of mockery. So you get all kinds of crazy cross-genre hybrids and stories that don’t fit into prescribed categories, but are instead allowed to breathe and develop. As long as you can tell a really good story that holds onto the child reader, they will let you take them anywhere.

Why did you start writing for children?

I was enraged by the lack of imagination shown by the shortlisted entrants to a BBC website competition called “Are you the next JK Rowling?” back in 2003 (needless to say, I was not shortlisted!) The entries were all so cosy and conventional, and I felt compelled to demonstrate that there was so much more that children’s stories could do. I hope my Stew work is still pushing those boundaries now.

How do you get your ideas?

Ah, the classic question that sends writers screaming to the hills! Luckily, I have something I made earlier, two “behind the story” articles about my Stew stories Princess of Dirt and The Door Keeper.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

Cheap jokes, exaggerated characters and outrageous slapstick are not only permitted, they are positively encouraged! Having said that, this is something that tends to come out in my longer novels, and I haven’t really indulged this side of my writing personality for Stew. Yet.

What are the challenges and benefits of writing to such a small word count?

All writers have to learn the importance of what you leave out of a story, but with only 700 words to play with, that need becomes particularly acute. One way to solve that is to present a vignette (part of a scene) instead of a complete story, but I find that approach unsatisfying. So instead, I challenge myself to produce something with a beginning, middle and (twist) ending, which means I have to edit ruthlessly and be very aware of the reader’s understanding so I don’t lose them. I think the name “Stew” is an apt metaphor, because the writing process becomes like reducing a sauce, boiling down the words until what remains is rich and full of meaning.


  1. Another inspirational article on comics. I have been enjoying these very much. Great to hear as well of a market for children's short stories. I eagerly await Nick's ones with more cheap jokes and slapstick!

  2. Fantastic, Nick, and I love your thoughts on why children's books are so inspirational.

  3. "because the writing process becomes like reducing a sauce, boiling down the words until what remains is rich and full of meaning." That is exactly it. Brilliant.


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