What was your favourite children’s book as a child?I have dim and distant memories of liking the Thomas the Tank Engine books when I was very young - I probably saw them in the library. The first book I remember properly is The Hobbit, which my final year primary school teacher read to the class. That led me to Lord of the Rings, historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, fantasy and SF…
The best children’s books tackle enormous subjects and themes in the most amazingly creative ways, and we tend to encounter them at really formative periods of our lives - either as children, or as parents reading books to our children. And let’s not forget that while ‘literary’ books for grown-ups abandoned the art of storytelling for most of the 20th century, children’s writers kept on telling great stories.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?
Why did you start writing for children?I was in my teens when I decided to become a writer - that had a lot to do with being a bookish boy with a dysfunctional family background, I think. But it was when I became a dad that I realised I wanted to write for children. For my own kids to begin with, but all children after that.
What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?
I usually say… the best part is finishing a story and knowing it’s good, or at the very least has some good bits in it! There are lots of pleasures, though, Having a great idea… finally working out a tricky plot… writing a good line that sees to work… seeing the illustrations to a story for the first time and thinking - ‘Wow! They’re good!’. And best of all - getting a letter from someone who has enjoyed one of my books!
Talking, Oxford University Press's Project X...
Project X is a major reading scheme developed by OUP to sit alongside their existing schemes such as Oxford Reading Tree. It was always intended to be very 21st century - great graphics, fantastic story lines attractive to kids who watch films and play computer games.
You are a lead writer OUP Award Winning Project X, can you tell us a bit about project X?
How did you become a lead writer for Project X?OUP had the basic concept for the series but decided they wanted someone to help develop it and be a focus for the writing of the initial books. They asked people to pitch for the job, which involved with coming up with lots of ideas. I have to give a special mention to my old mate and great author himself, Chris Powling here - he told OUP they should speak to me.
How much say do you have in the stories and the development of Project X?It wasn’t so much a question of having a ‘say’ - OUP have a great team and of course with a reading scheme there are always lots of themes, levels, curriculum links etc which have to be covered. I’ve spent a lot of time working with the team to flesh it all out - suggesting characters, plot lines, stories, scenarios. All great fun, but sometimes very tough - some very tight deadlines to hit!
Talking, Barrington Stoke's Young Merlin ...
You write the Young Merlin series for specialist ‘challenged reader’s’ publishers Barrington Stoke. How did get to work for Barrington stoke?That goes back to the diim and distant dawn of time… I don’t actually remember how the contact first came about - probably through my agent. My first book for them (in 2002) was The Two Jacks, which is still going strong, I’m pleased to say.
What are the challenges and benefits of writing for Barrington Stoke?The challenges are always the same when you write any story - you have to come up with a great idea and turn it into a brilliant story (never easy!). Barrington Stoke books are aimed at kids whose interests and understanding are probably much higher than their reading age, so you have to make sure your story is accessible as well as gripping. But that’s the way all good stories should work anyway. The Barrington Stoke team are brilliant at working with you on the editing process too - they know what their readers need.
Why did you choose to write about Merlin?I’ve always liked Arthurian stories, and Merlin is one of those great characters that stay in the mind - in some ways he’s the source of all wizards in children’s books - there would be no Gandalf without him. But we always see Merlin as an old man, and I was intrigued by the idea of him as a boy. He’s very young in the early Welsh legends.
Question from Young Merlin Fan Beatriz (aged 10)
Who is Merlin’s Dad? You tell us who his mum is, but not his dad, why?
Ah, that would be telling. Nobody knows who his dad was… Maybe one day I’ll write a story revealing the secret!
Talking, Golden Egg...
You have recently become a member of the Golden Egg Team, mentoring new writing talent, what is it like seeing writers at the beginning of their careers?
You write for many different ages, abilities and genres, how does it feel knowing that your books are helping children to learn to read?It feels wonderful… although to be honest it’s the idea of kids enjoying my books which gives me the most pleasure of all!
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